We often forget, as the more mature adults we consider ourselves to be, to think of the little ones. The children who so heavily rely on our understanding of the world, when we ourselves minimally question our behaviors but defend adamantly with a stubborn confidence. But how much of our claim of protecting children is actually true?
Does our empathy have a limit?
As apathetic as it may sound, the answer is a resounding yes.
And despite the constant flow of images, the horrid news stories, and persistent virtual exposure, humans seem to have little empathy for the masses. This behavior eases the imposition of harsh “resolutions” from politicians and civilians alike to fix the problem of removing refugees, deporting families, denying asylum, ethnical cleansing, bombing countries, and creating famines.
Why are we like this?
The answer is psychic numbing.
Led by psychologist Paul Slovic, the research results on psychic numbing can be grim. How much is too much for human compansion or at the least, attention that leads to action?
Here is a snippet of an interview with Dr. Slovic for Vox:
I’ve been doing research on risk for close to 60 years now. [In the 1970s] I was struck with Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s work on prospect theory. It had something called a value function in it, which indicated how people value things as the amounts increased. Changes at small levels had a big impact, and then as the magnitudes got larger, it took more and more of a difference to be noticeable.
The difference between, say, $0 and $100 feels greater than the difference between $100 and $200. If you’re talking about $5,800 or $5,900 — [both] seem the same, even though it’s still $100 difference.
I talked with Tversky about that, and [wondered] if that applied to lives. We both figured it would — and that this is really a pretty scary kind of thing.