n. The decrease in compassion felt for the unfortunate as their numbers increase.
Similarly, technology connects us to more and more of the world’s suffering, of which there’s an essentially infinite amount, until feeling steamrollered by it becomes structurally inevitable — not a sign that life’s getting worse. And the consequences go beyond glumness. They include "compassion fade", the well-studied effect whereby our urge to help the unfortunate declines as their numbers increase.
In studies published last year in the journal PLOS One, one of us, Paul Slovic, and colleagues demonstrated that "compassion fade" can occur when an incident involving a single person expands to as few as two people.
Moreover, the emergence of compassion fade…, which in this case means urban residents’ compassion shown to Tibetans decreases as the number of migrants in need of aid increases…, poses a significant challenge to personal and collective capacity to respond effectively to the many environmental problems.
In the third paper (Chapter IV: ‘Are pandas like people?’), I explore these limits within the context of environmental stewardship. Specifically, I extend past work on what I refer to as compassion fade — which refers to the finding that compassion towards victims tends to decrease as the number of individuals in need of aid increases.