University of Oregon research that gauged people's responses to different pleas to address hunger—one focused solely on a starving girl, the other combining that appeal with statistics about millions of other sufferers—could shed light on the relatively limited charitable response to the Ebola outbreak, according to NPR.
In psychologist Paul Slovic's study, volunteers who were told only about the single starving girl were willing to donate about twice as much to help her as were others who also received additional information about global hunger. Dr. Slovic said further research indicated the different responses grew out of two conflicting feelings: compassion for the girl and hopelessness in the face of a huge problem.
"It's really about the sense of efficacy," he said. "If our brain ... creates an illusion of non-efficacy, people could be demotivated by thinking, 'Well, this is such a big problem. Is my donation going to be effective in any way?' " Similar feelings could be shaping U.S. public giving to fight Ebola, which has lagged behind the response to recent natural disasters.