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Surprising Science

Why We Want to Help

"Human charity is ultimately rooted in our compassionate feelings, and not in some rational, utilitarian calculations. We are not Vulcans." The Frontal Cortex on why we help want to help others.

There is a human outpouring of emotion whenever a victim of a tragedy is easily identifiable, says Jonah Lehrer at The Frontal Cortex. The phenomenon is known as “Identifiable Victim Bias”. “Of course, this is a deeply irrational reaction,” says Lehrer. “We are much less interested in helping a victim—we only want to help the victim. (This bias is known as the identifiable victim effect, since it suggests that we react much more strongly when the victim can be specified.) Why do we this? Because human charity is ultimately rooted in our compassionate feelings, and not in some rational, utilitarian calculations. We are not Vulcans.”


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