In this December 2015 essay published in the New York Times, Scott Slovic and Paul Slovic explain psychic numbing, pseudoinefficacy, and the prominence effect for a lay audience. The authors provide vivid examples of psychic numbing in action. For instance, they note that although the attention of the world briefly turned to the Syrian refugee crisis when a photograph of Aylan Kurdi was published, 14 Syrian children drowned in the Aegean Sea the very next day. The essay asks, “Did you notice? Did you care?” To learn more about psychic numbing and related phenomena, read on in the New York Times website.
A famous saying goes, “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”
Due to psychic numbing, our sympathy for suffering and loss declines precipitously when we are presented with increasing numbers of victims.
Research has shown that compassion fade can begin to occur when a threat to a single person expands to as few as two people.
Saving one life is of utmost importance, but saving 1 + 1 lives feels less important than saving two lives and sometimes less important than saving one.
Confronting this peculiar “arithmetic of compassion” in our daily lives and our national policy decisions is of critical importance in a world facing catastrophic threats from violence, disease, poverty, and natural disasters.
We believe that by raising awareness of these phenomena we can lessen the impact they have on our humanitarian decision making. We provide suggestions for how you can take action to combat these cognitive biases and tackle problems like mass atrocities, famine, climate change, and other critical issues.
Click on the links above to learn about the three related cognitive biases or visit our Take Action page to learn how you can combat these obstacles to compassion. Blog posts below connect these concepts to current events.