Journal of Risk and Uncertainty

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 235-257

First online:

Explaining the Identifiable Victim Effect

  • KAREN JENNIAffiliated withDepartment of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University
  • , GEORGE LOEWENSTEINAffiliated withDepartment of Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University

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It is widely believed that people are willing to expend greater resources to save the lives of identified victims than to save equal numbers of unidentified or statistical victims. There are many possible causes of this disparity which have not been enumerated previously or tested empirically. We discuss four possible causes of the identifiable victim effect and present the results of two studies which indicate that the most important cause of the disparity in treatment of identifiable and statistical lives is that, for identifiable victims, a high proportion of those at risk can be saved.

value of life identifiable victims