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Why It’s So Hard to Get People to Care About Mass Suffering

It’s called psychic numbing, and it means that as the number of victims in a tragedy increases, our empathy, our willingness to help, reliably decreases. This happens even when the number of victims increases from one to two. Psychic numbing means there are diminishing returns on human compassion. And it’s a problem worth dwelling on, especially on a day like Giving Tuesday, when so many charities will make a pitch for people to donate to millions in need. The research suggests charities need to highlight individual human stories to get people to care. But while psychic numbing appears to be a stable component of human psychology, know that there are ways to fight through it, to help us connect with the millions who need help. Much of what we know about psychic numbing comes from University of Oregon psychologist Paul Slovic, who for decades has studied the intersection of emotion and decision-making.

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