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Overcoming the Emotions That Subconsciously Demotivate Us From Helping Those in Need
Psychologists have known for a long time the emotional truth captured in Joseph Stalin’s chilling (reputed) observation, “One death is a tragedy. One million deaths is a statistic.” This apparent callousness to mass suffering is a version of ‘psychic numbing’, in which the bigger the scope of the problem, the less impact you think you can have, so you care less…you donate less…you help less…because against immense problems like mass murder or starvation or refugees, or climate change or other global environmental threats, helpless is precisely how you feel. Ineffective. Powerless. This has been labeled the “Drop in the Bucket Effect.” http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1937817
Studies have found that people donate more to save two lives out of four potential victims, than to save the same two lives if they are two of 1,700 possible victims. People donated more to provide clean water that would save 4,500 lives in a refugee camp of 11,000 people than they would give to save the same 4,500 lives if the camp was bigger, 250,000 people. But this is not just a matter of big numbers. It happens at even the smallest scale.
Imagine you are shown the picture and name of a child who needs your help to survive, and you are asked how much would donate to save that child.
Now imagine you are shown two children and told your donation can only save one of them.
Now how much do you give? These two scenarios are pretty close to identical. In both, your donation will save one kid. But they don’t feel the same, do they?
Disturbing new research has found that people donate more to save one child’s life if they see only that one child, and they donate less to save one child’s life if they are shown pictures of two children and told that their donation can only save one of them. The good news is that this new piece of as-yet unpublished research – “Whoever Saves One Life Saves the World: Confronting the Challenge of Pseudoinefficacy”- has helped identify why this tragic irrationality occurs, an insight that might help us overcome the emotional drivers that dull our willingness to help others. What the research confirmed is what you might have assumed, that while helping feels good, knowing that you can’t help feels bad, and the bad feelings mute some of the good feelings that encourage you to help in the first place.
In a variety of scenarios, participants were asked how much they would give to save one child. They saw the child’s picture and name. Participants were also asked to rate on a 0 – 100 scale the ‘warm glow’ they got from their donation…how good did giving make them feel? Sometimes they saw only the one child. Sometimes they saw two children, or several, and they were told that their giving could only help one kid. When they saw more than one kid, sometimes they were were told specifically which kid would be saved and which ones wouldn’t. Sometimes they were only told that one kid out of the group would be saved, but specifically which one.
In every case participants gave more to save one kid when they only saw one kid, than when they also saw other kids who they would not be helping. And they gave themselves higher ‘warm glow’ ratings when they donated to save one kid when they only saw one kid, than when they saved one kid out of two or several. It felt less good to save one kid when they knew there were others they could not help, than to save that same kid if he was the only kid the potential donors knew about.
This is both scary, and potentially encouraging. Scary, because when our subconscious feelings overpower the rational choice – to save one kid whether he’s one of one or one of several – in real life that means we aren’t helping others as much as we could. People we might be helping are suffering, and dying, and we are not doing the individual things we could do to help address big problem like climate change - because of this foible in our cognitive make up.
But this research is potentially encouraging because, by understanding the emotional and psychological mechanisms that motivate us to give and help - or that demotivate us from giving and helping - we can recognize how our feelings may be interfering with what makes sense, and at least try to avoid the mistake of not giving just because it feels like a drop in the bucket. Focusing on the good we can do and trying to ignore the negative feelings from knowing what we can’t, might encourage more of us give and help …and benefit more people and save more lives.
And those running aid organizations can use this research to frame their requests for our help in ways more likely to trigger the ‘warm glow’ of helping while avoiding anything that might trigger the negative feelings of not being able to help. In fact, one of the several studies within this research project tried just that, telling a group of participants in one study that while their donations could only save only one kid out of the several they were shown, other donations might help save the others. When people learned that though their donations couldn’t save everyone, that that didn’t necessarily mean the other kids would get no help, donations and self-described ‘warm glow’ ratings went up.
The introduction of the research paper quotes a scene from the end of the movie Schindler’s List. Oskar Schindler, the World War Two German industrialist who has risked his life saving hundreds of Jews from slaughter, takes off his Nazi pin and says “This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. One more person…and I didn’t! And I…I didn’t”. That is the Drop in the Bucket feeling of not being able to help enough. But it didn’t keep him from helping, a lot. As the movie closes, Schindler is given a gold ring by the 1,100 people he did save, inscribed with the saying from the Jewish Talmud “whoever saves one life saves the world entire.”
So, you want to do a little good? Tweet or Facebook of Share this post to share it's lessons. Or maybe tell a friend about what you just learned; that we might be doing far more good in the world if we just try to fight back against the negative emotions we get from feeling helpless against all we can’t do, and stay aware of and focus on the positive ‘warm glow’ feelings we get from the good we can.
Just that…sharing this little lesson…can probably do a world of good.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.