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JOBNAME Kluwer Journals RI PAGE 1 SESS 34 OUTPUT Wed May 28 08 52 24 1997 data11 kluwer journals risk v14n3art2 Journal of Risk and Uncertainty 14 235 257 1997 1997 Kluwer Academic Publishers Explaining the Identifiable Victim Effect KAREN E JENNI Department of Engineering and Public Policy Carnegie Mellon University GEORGE LOEWENSTEIN Department of Social and Decision Sciences Carnegie Mellon University Abstract It is widely believed that people are willing to expend greater resources to save the lives of identified victims than to save equal numbers of unidentified or statistical victims There are many possible causes of this disparity which have not been enumerated previously or tested empirically We discuss four possible causes of the identifiable victim effect and present the results of two studies which indicate that the most important cause of the disparity in treatment of identifiable and statistical lives is that for identifiable victims a high proportion of those at risk can be saved Key words value of life identifiable victims JEL Classification J 17 There is a distinction between an individual life and a statistical life Let a 6 year old girl with brown hair need thousands of dollars for an operation that will prolong her life until Christmas and the post office will be swamped with nickels and dimes to save her But let it be reported that without a sales tax the hospital facilities of Massachusetts will deteriorate and cause a barely perceptible increase in preventable deaths not many will drop a tear or reach for their checkbooks Schelling 1968 The death of a single Russion soldier is a tragedy A million deaths is a statistic Joseph Stalin quoted in Nisbett and Ross 1980 43 In late 1987 eighteen month old Jessica McClure spent 58 hours trapped in a well and Americans responded with sympathy a tremendous rescue effort and money The McClures received over 700 000 in donations for baby Jessica in the months after her rescue and eventually a popular

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