As I follow the discussion we’re having here at TPMCafe, I keep thinking about The Mother Teresa Effect, a concept based on her quote: “If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”
Jae Ran Kim explains:
“In 2004, Carnegie Mellon University conducted an experiment to see if this quote held true in real life. They gave participants five $1 bills to participate in a fictional survey, then presented half of the participants with a fact sheet about starving children in Africa along with an envelope for a donation. The other half of the participants received the same envelope, but instead of a fact sheet, they were given a photo of a young girl named Rokia and a paragraph about how her life would benefit from the participant’s donation.”
As you might expect, those with the picture of Rokia gave more than twice as much as those with just the fact sheet.
The researchers tried the experiment again, this time giving one group the fact sheet and the story about Rokia and the other group just the story about Rokia. Again, those with just the story of Rokia donated more than the group with both the story and the facts.
In other words, not only are we more likely to do something to help an individual than an abstract problem, the inclusion of factual evidence actually reduces our ability to empathize and take action.
Am I advocating that we throw all our facts and statistics out the window? No, of course not. What I’m arguing is that there is power in the specificity of the personal narrative and we should make use of it in our anti-racist efforts.
When I think back on how my own views about race have evolved over my lifetime, I realize that some of the most profound shifts in my thinking resulted not from reading theoretical treatises, but from learning about specific individuals’ experiences.
Read the rest of the article here: http://tpmcafe.talkingpointsmemo.com/2008/04/03/what_is_the_human_cost_of_raci/