Insensitivity to the Value of Human Life: A Study of Psychophysical Numbing
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A fundamental principle of psychophysics is that people's ability to discriminate change in a physical stimulus diminishes as the magnitude of the stimulus increases. We find that people also exhibit diminished sensitivity in valuing lifesaving interventions against a background of increasing numbers of lives at risk. We call this psychophysical numbing. Studies 1 and 2 found that an intervention saving a fixed number of lives was judged significantly more beneficial when fewer lives were at risk overall. Study 3 found that respondents wanted the minimum number of lives a medical treatment would have to save to merit a fixed amount of funding to be much greater for a disease with a larger number of potential victims than for a disease with a smaller number. The need to better understand the dynamics of psychophysical numbing and to determine its effects on decision making is discussed.
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- Insensitivity to the Value of Human Life: A Study of Psychophysical Numbing
Journal of Risk and Uncertainty
Volume 14, Issue 3 , pp 283-300
- Cover Date
- Print ISSN
- Online ISSN
- Kluwer Academic Publishers
- Additional Links
- decision making
- life saving
- value of life
- risk-benefit analysis
- psychophysical numbing
- Industry Sectors
- Author Affiliations
- 1. Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, California, 94305-2130
- 2. University of Oregon and Decision Research, Eugene, Oregon
- 3. Decision Research, USA
- 4. Willamette University, USA