So you think you’re in control?
‘Compassion fade’ is the tendency to experience a decrease in empathy as the number of people in need of aid increases.
When we readily identify with another person in need of help, our survival-thinking brain responds by creating similar emotional effects in ourselves. While experiencing empathy for the victim, we too can feel fear, anger and sadness. This is a phenomenon known as the ‘identifiable victim effect’.
When the number of victims increases to the point at which their faces (stories, experiences) all blend together in an abstract mass, making identification less easy, so our sense of empathy or compassion recedes. What we have in common with them appears less prominent and our feeling of connection is reduced.
News stories make personal the experiences of real-life named individuals so that we can better understand and empathise and consider our own connection with their situation and the actions we can take in response.
If we could identify more strongly with potential future victims of our actions, perhaps we would be more conscientious in following preventive measures: endure our own personal hardship in short-term isolation now to reduce the long-term detriment and permanent loss of the faceless victims we might never meet.