Last Updated Mar 2, 2010 7:09 PM EST
This last point is of especially significant concern; will those who gave generously to Haiti be willing to donate to Chile less than two months later? Charitable giving in the aftermath of a disaster is often linked to how we perceive humanitarian crises, which recent research from Duke's Fuqua School of Business examines.
Namika Sagara of Fuqua and Christopher Olivola of University College London found that the public's reaction to a tragedy largely depends on the number of deaths it brings about. However, people also display "diminishing sensitivity" to disasters. As a Fuqua news release explains, "As an event's death toll increases, each additional death seems less shocking, so that, for example, we appear to care less about the last thousand people to die in a large-scale disaster than the first thousand fatalities."
People's reaction to disasters also depends on where they live. The news release states, "In a country such as the UK, which is unused to mass deaths, a medium-scale disaster will seem really shocking, but the shock value will quickly start to blur as the numbers increase, so that large-scale events will seem indistinguishable." Those who live in countries that have suffered more mass losses may be less shocked by disasters, but they will also be able to better differentiate them.
What it means
The research has important implications for those who work in disaster fundraising. As Olivola explains, the study "advances our understanding of people's reactions to humanitarian crises and other deadly events. For example, it would seem that wealthy nations which have the resources to help those countries most affected by mass deaths also have populations that are most likely to show a diminishing sensitivity to human fatalities. We hope this knowledge will ultimately help save many lives."
Do you think that an awareness of diminishing sensitivity can translate into saved lives? And will you be making a donation to Chile?
Image courtesy of Flickr user David Berkowitz, CC 2.0