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If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.

DarfurI know I just keep mentioning and linking to The Situationist Blog, but it is so good, with such high quality posts from such high calibre scholars. Here is another fascinating and sobering post, this time from Paul Slovic.

I’ve featured his work on genocide, and our responses to genocide before on Psychology and Crime News, in September 2005, the Darfur Day of Action, and back in December 2005, when Slovic asked why the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina moved so many more than the Darfur genocide. It’s absolutely tragic that the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan has been going on now for four years and is still claiming lives.

Slovic writes (11 April):

“If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” This statement uttered by Mother Teresa captures a powerful and deeply unsettling insight into human nature: Most people are caring and will exert great effort to rescue “the one” whose plight comes to their attention. But these same people often become numbly indifferent to the plight of “the one” who is “one of many” in a much greater problem. It’s happening right now in regards to Darfur, where over 200,000 innocent civilians have been killed in the past four years and at least another 2.5 million have been driven from their homes. Why aren’t these horrific statistics sparking us to action? Why do good people ignore mass murder and genocide? The answer may lie in human psychology. Specifically, it is our inability to comprehend numbers and relate them to mass human tragedy that stifles our ability to act.

Slovic includes numerous links to his, and others’, work, including to papers and broadcasts.

There is another recent article about Slovic’s work on the public response to genocide in New Scientist (7 April).

See also:

  • More posts on psychology of genocide on PCN here.
  • Michael Metzler at Pooh’s Think comments on Slovic’s article.

Update (22 April) to include scholarly reference:

One Comment

  1. I believe charities have figured this out for some time (putting a single face on a problem that affects millions). For example, “sponsor a child” or “sponsor an animal.” Here is a picture of the person or animal you are helping.

    We can relate to things when they relate to our experiences and studies; however, when have we experienced 2.4 million people losing their homes? When have we been close to 200,000 people being killed? Unfortunately, I believe only if we can make these autrocities more concrete or relative to people’s perceptions will we be able to motivate folks to action.

    Posted on 07-Aug-07 at 12:29 am | Permalink

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