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brainoil comments on Scope Insensitivity - Less Wrong

46 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 14 May 2007 02:53AM

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Comment author: brainoil 26 May 2013 10:43:56AM *  3 points [-]

From Abhijit V. Benerjee and Esther Duflo's Poor Economics,

Researchers gave students $5 to fill out a short survey. They then showed them a flyer and asked them to make a donation to Save the Children, one of the world’s leading charities. There were two different flyers. Some (randomly selected) students were shown this:Food shortages in Malawi are affecting more than 3 million children; In Zambia, severe rainfall deficits have resulted in a 42% drop in maize production from 2000. As a result, an estimated 3 million Zambians face hunger; Four million Angolans—one third of the population—have been forced to flee their homes; More than 11 million people in Ethiopia need immediate food assistance.

Other students were shown a flyer featuring a picture of a young girl and these words:Rokia, a 7-year-old girl from Mali, Africa, is desperately poor and faces a threat of severe hunger or even starvation. Her life will be changed for the better as a result of your financial gift. With your support, and the support of other caring sponsors, Save the Children will work with Rokia’s family and other members of the community to help feed her, provide her with education, as well as basic medical care and hygiene education. The first flyer raised an average of $1.16 from each student. The second flyer, in which the plight of millions became the plight of one, raised $2.83. The students, it seems, were willing to take some responsibility for helping Rokia, but when faced with the scale of the global problem, they felt discouraged.

Some other students, also chosen at random, were shown the same two flyers after being told that people are more likely to donate money to an identifiable victim than when presented with general information. Those shown the first flyer, for Zambia, Angola, and Mali, gave more or less what that flyer had raised without the warning—$1.26. Those shown the second flyer, for Rokia, after this warning gave only $1.36, less than half of what their colleagues had committed without it. Encouraging students to think again prompted them to be less generous to Rokia, but not more generous to everyone else in Mali.