In a recent NPR article, Shankar Vedantam asks “why do people sometimes give generously to a cause — and other times give nothing at all?” This is a question that regularly crosses our minds here at Markets For Good, and no doubt yours as well. Given the recent lack in Ebola funding, which Andrew Grabois of the Foundation Center highlighted last week, it seems even more fitting to highlight NPR’s investigation.
In the article, Vedantam interviews psychologist Paul Slovic, who argues that “as the numbers grow, we sort of lose the emotional connection to the people who are in need.” The current outbreak triggers “feelings of hopelessness: there’s no cure, lots of people are sick, and lots of people will die.” This therefore “diminishes the warm glow and reduces the impulse to give generously.”
Slovic’s research, which you can read more of in the original article, suggests “the way to combat this hopelessness is to give people a sense that their intervention can, in fact, make a difference.” So one sick child is a solvable problem, while a million sick children is perceived as so vast, one couldn’t possibly have an impact large enough to justify giving.
“The way to combat this hopelessness is to give people a sense that their intervention can, in fact, make a difference.”
Vedantam’s article, and Slovic’s research really brings the head vs. heart debate to prominence. When facing global issues like Ebola, it becomes more pressing than ever to understand how to effectively mobilize public support to a campaign.