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.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Baron, Jonathan. (1997).Confusion of Relative and Absolute Risk in Valuation,"Journal of Risk and Uncertainy 14, 301–309.
Bohnet, Iris and Bruno Frey. (1999). "The Sound of Silence in Prisoner's Dilemma and Dictator Games," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 38, 43–57.
Camerer, Colin and Richard Thaler. (1995). "Anomalies: Ultimatums, Dictators, and Manners," Journal of Economic Perspectives 9(2), 209–219.
Chaiken, Shelly. (1980). "Heuristic Versus Systematic Information Processing and the Use of Source Versus Message Cues in Persuasion,"Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 39(5), 752–766.
Douglas, Mary. (1992). Risk and Blame: Essays in Cultural Theory. New York: Routledge.
Featherstonhaugh, David, Paul Slovic, Stephen M. Johnson, and James Friedrich. (1997). "Insensitivity to the Value of Human Life: A Study of Psychophysical Numbing," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty 14, 283–300.
Hamilton, David L. and Steven J. Sherman. (1996). "Perceiving Persons and Groups,"Psychological Review 103(2), 336–355.
Hoffman, Elizabeth,Kevin McCabe, and Vernon L. Smith. (1996). "Social Distance and Other-Regarding Behavior in Dictator Games,"The American Economic Review 86(3), 653–660.
Jenni, Karen E. and George F. Loewenstein. (1997). "Explaining the "Identifiable Victim Effect,"Journal of Risk and Uncertainty 14, 235–257.
Kahneman, Daniel and Amos Tversky. (1979). "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision Under Risk,"Econometrica 47(2), 263–291.
Nisbett, Richard and Lee Ross. (1980).Human Inference: Strategies and Shortcomings of Social Judgment. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Petty, Richard E. and John T. Cacciopo. (1986).Communication and Persuasion. Central and Perpipheral Routes to Attitude Change. New York: Springer-Verlag.
Schelling, Thomas C. (1968). "The Life you Save may be your own." In Samuel B. Chase (ed.), Problems in Public Expenditure Analysis. Washington DC: The Brookings Institute.
Shafir, Eldar, Itamar Simonson, and Amos Tversky. (1993). "Reason-based Choice," Cognition Special Issue: Reasoning and Decision Making 49(1/2), 11–36.
Sherman, Steven J., Denise R. Beike, andKenneth R. Ryalls. (1999). "Dual-Processing Accounts of Inconsistencies in Responses to General Versus Specific Cases." In Shelly Chaiken and Yaacov Trope (eds.), Dual-Process Theories in Social Psychology. New York: The Guilford Press.
Slovic, Paul, Baruch Fischhoff, and Sarah Lichtenstein. (1980). "Facts and Fears: Understanding Perceived Risk." In Richard C. Schwing and Walther A. Alberts, Jr. (eds.),Societal Risk Assessment: How Safe is Safe Enough? NewYork: Plenum Press.
Van Boven, Leaf, George Loeswenstein, Ned Welch, and David Dunning. (2001). "The Illusion of Courage: Underestimating Social-Risk Aversion in Self and Others." Working paper. Department of Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University.
Weiner, Bernard. (1980). "A Cognitive (Attribution)-Emotion-Action Model of Motivated Behavior: An Analysis of Judgments of Help Giving," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 39, 186–200.
Weiner, Bernard. (1995). Judgments of Responsibility: A Foundation for a Theory of Social Conduct. New York: Guilford Press.
Variety. (1989). " TV Reviews—Network: Everybody's Baby,"Volume3335:7,May 31.
About this article
Cite this article
Small, D.A., Loewenstein, G. Helping a Victim or Helping the Victim: Altruism and Identifiability. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty 26, 5–16 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1022299422219
- value of life
- identifiable victims
- dictator game