Introduction

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.

The mission of the Arithmetic of Compassion Website is to raise awareness of psychological obstacles to compassion, including psychic numbingpseudoinefficacy, and the prominence effect.

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 below to learn about the three related cognitive biases, or visit our Environmental Humanities page to learn how artists can employ strategies to overcome these obstacles to compassion. Our Take Action page teaches how you can combat these biases and help others be more compassionate. The blog posts in our Blog page connect these concepts to current events.

Why do we care about the one but not the many?

Why do we fail to act when the problem is large?

Why do our governments fail to uphold humanitarian values?