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10/2/2012 7:25:06 PM
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JFKES

Empathy explains why two million Aids victims don't make me cry

[url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/02/ben-goldacre-bad-science-crime-punishment-empathy]Punishment does not fit crimes with the most victims Empathy explains why Two Little Boys makes me cry yet two million Aids deaths a year never have the same effect.[/url] [quote]Like all students of wrongness, I'm fascinated by research into irrational beliefs and behaviours, but I'm also suspicious of how far you can stretch the findings from a laboratory into the real world. A cracking paper from Social Psychology and Personality Science makes a neat attempt to address this shortcoming. Loran Nordgren and Mary McDonnell wanted to see whether we perceive a crime as being more serious when more people are affected. Sixty students were given an article about a fraud case; in one version three people were defrauded by a financial adviser, in a second, 30. All other information in the story was the same in both versions. You might imagine that someone who harmed more people would be deemed to deserve harsher treatment. But asked to evaluate the severity of the crime and recommend a punishment, participants who read the story with three victims rated the crime as more serious than those who read the same story with 30 victims. More than that, they acted on this view: out of a maximum sentence of 10 years, people who read the three-victim story recommended an average prison term one year longer than the 30-victim readers. Another study, in which a food processing company knowingly poisoned customers to avoid bankruptcy, gave similar results. It's nice that they did two studies of the same idea, but I always worry about experiments like this, because they demonstrate an effect in the rarefied environment of the laboratory, while the real world can be much more complicated. But this paper has two halves: the authors then go on to examine the sentences in a representative sample of 136 real world court cases, in which people were found guilty of these kinds of crimes but with varying numbers of victims, to see what impact the victim-count had. The results were depressing. These were cases between 2000-2009 in which individuals from corporations had been found guilty by juries of negligently exposing members of the public to substances such as asbestos, lead paint or toxic mould, and their victims had all suffered significantly. The researchers' hypothesis was correct: people who harm larger numbers of people get significantly lower punitive damages than people who harm a smaller number. Courts punish people less harshly when they harm more people. It seems to me that alternative explanations may play a contributory role: cases where lots of people were harmed may involve larger companies, with more expensive and competent lawyers, for example, or larger and more deniable lines of responsibility. But in the light of their earlier experiment, it's hard to discount the contributory effect of empathy, and this is a phenomenon we all recognise. When he appeared on Desert Island Discs, Rolf Harris told the story of his song "Two Little Boys". His uncle died in the war, but Rolf's dad always believed that if they'd only been in the same infantry unit, he could have crawled out and pulled his little brother to safety, just like in the song. Instead he lay, bleeding to death from his injuries, and died above the trench. Rolf played Two Little Boys to his grandmother once. She sat through it quietly, took it off at the end, and said: "Please don't ever play that to me again." I'm sure it's lame of me, I realise it may not press your own personal buttons, but this story made me cry a tiny bit. Two million people die of Aids every year. It never has the same effect.[/quote] A pretty shocking article isn't it. I had to read it as part of my philosophy course at university, and I thought I should share it with the Flood. It's a very interesting study isn't it? What's your view on it Flood?
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  • Fascinating? Yes. Interesting? Very. Shocking? Hardly.
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  • [quote][b]Posted by:[/b] Omega Travis There is also a quote made by the Joker in the Dark Knight along similar lines. [quote]Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plans are horrifying. If I tell the press that tomorrow a gangbanger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will get blown up, nobody panics. But when I say one little old mayor will die, everyone loses their minds!! [/quote][/quote] The Dark Knight is one of my most loved films, but I never got that quote. I don't see the difference betweeen the first examples (where everything goes to plan) and the thing with the mayor (because in that case everything also went to plan). Unless he means it doesn't go according to the peoples plan for the future, rather than the Jokers plan (the second of which was what I have always taken it to mean until now). Typing that up actually kind of makes me understand it.
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  • There's a difference between a face with a name and, as already said, numbers. Also there is a flow of AIDS from hunters coming back from Africa exposed to the monkey equivalent. It's elimination is not entirely doable. [Edited on 10.02.2012 5:30 PM PDT]
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  • There is also a quote made by the Joker in the Dark Knight along similar lines. [quote]Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plans are horrifying. If I tell the press that tomorrow a gangbanger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will get blown up, nobody panics. But when I say one little old mayor will die, everyone loses their minds!! [/quote]
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  • [quote][b]Posted by:[/b] Cortland_Brewer If I had AIDS, I'd suicide. If everybody who had AIDS committed suicide, nobody would have AIDS...[/quote] Or less extreme and just didn't have sex.
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  • [quote][b]Posted by:[/b] Cortland_Brewer If I had AIDS, I'd suicide. If everybody who had AIDS committed suicide, nobody would have AIDS...[/quote]Except most people who have Aids don't know they do. So they infect more people because they don't know they have it. This is very basic common knowledge, I thought anyone who is smart enough to operate a computer would be aware of these facts.
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  • "individuals from corporations had been found guilty by juries of negligently exposing members of the public to substances such as asbestos, lead paint or toxic mould, and their victims had all suffered significantly. The researchers' hypothesis was correct: people who harm larger numbers of people get significantly lower punitive damages than people who harm a smaller number. Courts punish people less harshly when they harm more people." That's harsh but true. Corperations are given the same rights as people so the people in the corperation who might be guilty don't get as much punishment because 'The corperation did it not me'. As soon as you hear anyone say 'Corperations are like human beings', that's one person you can't trust.
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  • If I had AIDS, I'd suicide. If everybody who had AIDS committed suicide, nobody would have AIDS...
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  • [quote][b]Posted by:[/b] Kashmir A17 Can someone TL;DR this thread? I have to go to work.[/quote] Studies show we dislike people more if they hurt a small number of people as opposed to a large number.
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  • [quote]Courts punish people less harshly when they harm more people.[/quote]That is profoundly depressing. No wonder our world is so -blam!- ed up
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  • Can someone TL;DR this thread? I have to go to work.
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  • [quote][b]Posted by:[/b] The Cheese Lady Yup. Especially if no details are given. Even when faced with it, seeing tens or hundreds of people vs 1, you'll still feel more empathy towards the one. I liken it to short attention spans and interest.[/quote] Seems so unfair. I wish people (including me) would view the 'statistics' as people and actually get up and do something about poverty etc. because if we all did, we could make a huge difference.
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  • [quote][b]Posted by:[/b] Xd00999 [quote][b]Posted by:[/b] BerzerkCommando [i]One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic. -Joseph Stalin.[/i][/quote] I'm fairly certain Stalin didn't actually say that. Regardless, I agree with the article. You can't connect with 2 million people the same way you connect with a close friend.[/quote] What makes you think he didn't say it?
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  • Yup. Especially if no details are given. Even when faced with it, seeing tens or hundreds of people vs 1, you'll still feel more empathy towards the one. I liken it to short attention spans and interest.
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  • [quote][b]Posted by:[/b] BerzerkCommando [i]One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic. -Joseph Stalin.[/i][/quote] I'm fairly certain Stalin didn't actually say that. Regardless, I agree with the article. You can't connect with 2 million people the same way you connect with a close friend. [Edited on 10.02.2012 12:47 PM PDT]
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  • [quote][b]Posted by:[/b] BerzerkCommando [i]One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic. -Joseph Stalin.[/i][/quote]
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  • [quote][b]Posted by:[/b] BerzerkCommando [i]One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic. -Joseph Stalin.[/i][/quote]
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  • [quote][b]Posted by:[/b] Rainbow A Dash Well THAT was a cheery title.[/quote] Taken from the title of the article.
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  • Well THAT was a cheery title.
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  • [quote][b]Posted by:[/b] Barnacle_Blast If I had to guess I'd say people feel more empathetic towards stories that induce emotions or that they can relate to. For the example the Holocaust killed 6 million Jews. But if you read personal accounts like "Night" by Elie Wiesel you become sympathetic and emotional. [/quote] Yeah that's true.
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  • If I had to guess I'd say people feel more empathetic towards stories that induce emotions or that they can relate to. For the example the Holocaust killed 6 million Jews. But if you read personal accounts like "Night" by Elie Wiesel you become sympathetic and emotional. [Edited on 10.02.2012 11:38 AM PDT]
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  • But those with the power to feel 2 million deaths must feel really crap. Like a disturbance in the force
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  • That makes sense. It's easier to empathize with a smaller group of individuals than a large group. Though refugees might have an easier time.
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  • [quote][b]Posted by:[/b] JFKES [quote][b]Posted by:[/b] HALO12325 If you can recollect that quote by Stalin it is well explained. An individual's death is more sad than millions, they're just numbers. [/quote] I'm guessing it's because our brains can't comprehend that number of people as all being personal (in one sense) so we turn them into a statistic (with which we have little emotional connection). It's a really sad reality though.[/quote] Yup. It's impersonal.
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  • [quote][b]Posted by:[/b] HALO12325 If you can recollect that quote by Stalin it is well explained. An individual's death is more sad than millions, they're just numbers. [/quote] I'm guessing it's because our brains can't comprehend that number of people as all being personal (in one sense) so we turn them into a statistic (with which we have little emotional connection). It's a really sad reality though.
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  • [i]One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic. -Joseph Stalin.[/i]
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