Frontline, Emeritus and the question of empathy

Its easier to have empathy for people if you know specific things about them. Longterm care providers know this, and it is behind many valuable programs to learn more about residents lives.


Social scientists also know this to be true. They refer to the “identifiable victim effect,” which states that we’re more likely to feel empathy for a particular individual with specific traits than for a mass of nameless, faceless victims. The classic example is that people will generously donate to fund an operation for a brown-haired, blue-eyed six-year-old girl, but will do nothing when they hear a loss of tax revenue will lead to an unspecified number of deaths at a hospital that lacks funding.

 Tim Mullaney