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Iconic photographs and the ebb and flow of empathic response to humanitarian disasters

Slovic, Paul; Västfjäll, Daniel; Erlandsson, Arvid LU and Gregory, Robin (2017) In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 114(4). p.640-644
Abstract

The power of visual imagery is well known, enshrined in such familiar sayings as "seeing is believing" and "a picture is worth a thousand words." Iconic photos stir our emotions and transform our perspectives about life and the world in which we live. On September 2, 2015, photographs of a young Syrian child, Aylan Kurdi, lying face-down on a Turkish beach, filled the front pages of newspapers worldwide. These images brought much-needed attention to the Syrian war that had resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and created millions of refugees. Here we present behavioral data demonstrating that, in this case, an iconic photo of a single child had more impact than statistical reports of hundreds of thousands of deaths. People who... (More)

The power of visual imagery is well known, enshrined in such familiar sayings as "seeing is believing" and "a picture is worth a thousand words." Iconic photos stir our emotions and transform our perspectives about life and the world in which we live. On September 2, 2015, photographs of a young Syrian child, Aylan Kurdi, lying face-down on a Turkish beach, filled the front pages of newspapers worldwide. These images brought much-needed attention to the Syrian war that had resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and created millions of refugees. Here we present behavioral data demonstrating that, in this case, an iconic photo of a single child had more impact than statistical reports of hundreds of thousands of deaths. People who had been unmoved by the relentlessly rising death toll in Syria suddenly appeared to care much more after having seen Aylan's photograph; however, this newly created empathy waned rather quickly. We briefly examine the psychological processes underlying these findings, discuss some of their policy implications, and reflect on the lessons they provide about the challenges to effective intervention in the face of mass threats to human well-being.

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author
organization
publishing date
type
Contribution to journal
publication status
published
subject
keywords
Empathy, Humanitarian disasters, Iconic photographs, Psychic numbing, Syrian refugees
in
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
volume
114
issue
4
pages
5 pages
publisher
National Acad Sciences
external identifiers
  • scopus:85010775184
  • wos:000392597000033
ISSN
0027-8424
DOI
10.1073/pnas.1613977114
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
09faaf01-8bd5-4c92-b391-e82f74bbf832
date added to LUP
2017-02-14 14:51:14
date last changed
2018-01-07 11:49:45
@article{09faaf01-8bd5-4c92-b391-e82f74bbf832,
  abstract     = {<p>The power of visual imagery is well known, enshrined in such familiar sayings as "seeing is believing" and "a picture is worth a thousand words." Iconic photos stir our emotions and transform our perspectives about life and the world in which we live. On September 2, 2015, photographs of a young Syrian child, Aylan Kurdi, lying face-down on a Turkish beach, filled the front pages of newspapers worldwide. These images brought much-needed attention to the Syrian war that had resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and created millions of refugees. Here we present behavioral data demonstrating that, in this case, an iconic photo of a single child had more impact than statistical reports of hundreds of thousands of deaths. People who had been unmoved by the relentlessly rising death toll in Syria suddenly appeared to care much more after having seen Aylan's photograph; however, this newly created empathy waned rather quickly. We briefly examine the psychological processes underlying these findings, discuss some of their policy implications, and reflect on the lessons they provide about the challenges to effective intervention in the face of mass threats to human well-being.</p>},
  author       = {Slovic, Paul and Västfjäll, Daniel and Erlandsson, Arvid and Gregory, Robin},
  issn         = {0027-8424},
  keyword      = {Empathy,Humanitarian disasters,Iconic photographs,Psychic numbing,Syrian refugees},
  language     = {eng},
  month        = {01},
  number       = {4},
  pages        = {640--644},
  publisher    = {National Acad Sciences},
  series       = {Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America},
  title        = {Iconic photographs and the ebb and flow of empathic response to humanitarian disasters},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1613977114},
  volume       = {114},
  year         = {2017},
}