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Iconic photographs and the ebb and flow of empathic response to humanitarian disasters
Decis Research, OR 97401 USA; University of Oregon, OR 97403 USA.
Linköping University, Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Psychology. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Decis Research, OR 97401 USA.
Linköping University, Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Psychology. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Lund University, Sweden.
Decis Research, OR 97401 USA; ChoiceWorks Ltd, Canada.
2017 (English)In: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, ISSN 0027-8424, E-ISSN 1091-6490, Vol. 114, no 4, p. 640-644Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

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 Aylans 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.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
NATL ACAD SCIENCES , 2017. Vol. 114, no 4, p. 640-644
Keyword [en]
empathy; iconic photographs; humanitarian disasters; psychic numbing; Syrian refugees
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-134598DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1613977114ISI: 000392597000033PubMedID: 28074038OAI: oai:DiVA.org:liu-134598DiVA, id: diva2:1076024
Note

Funding Agencies|US National Science Foundation [1227729, 1427414]; Riksbankens Jubileumsfond; Swedish Research Council

Available from: 2017-02-21 Created: 2017-02-21 Last updated: 2018-01-13

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Västfjäll, DanielErlandsson, Arvid
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