Journal of Risk and Uncertainty

, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 5-16

First online:

Helping a Victim or Helping the Victim: Altruism and Identifiability

  • Deborah A. SmallAffiliated withDepartment of Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University Email author 
  • , George LoewensteinAffiliated withDepartment of Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University

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Although it has been claimed that people care more about identifiable than statistical victims, demonstrating this “identifiable victim effect” has proven difficult because identification usually provides information about a victim, and people may respond to the information rather than to identification per se. We show that a very weak form of identifiability—determining the victim without providing any personalizing information—increases caring. In the first, laboratory study, subjects were more willing to compensate others who lost money when the losers had already been determined than when they were about to be. In the second, field study, people contributed more to a charity when their contributions would benefit a family that had already been selected from a list than when told that the family would be selected from the same list.

value of life identifiable victims dictator game