Indonesia’s Tsunami and the Problem of Human Empathy

Jamil Zaki: For decades, social scientists have documented a troubling quirk in human empathy: People tend to care more about the suffering of single individuals, and less about the pain of many people. Such “compassion collapse” is morally backwards — dozens or hundreds of people, by definition, can lose more, fear more, and hurt more than any one of us; human concern should scale with the amount of pain in front of us. Instead, it dries up. Compassion collapse may seem like just a (lack of) feeling, but its consequences extend further. Most important, it affects how and when people choose to help one another.

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