The Death of Hundreds Is Just a Statistic—But It Doesn’t Have to Be – Facts So Romantic

Imagine that tomorrow I were to show you a newspaper article describing a deadly wildfire. Do you think you’d be more upset upon reading that 10,000 people died than if you read that five people died?

This scenario makes people engage in affective forecasting—predicting their future emotional states. We expect that hearing about 10,000 deaths would make us sadder than hearing about five deaths.

But that’s not what happens.

Social psychologists Elizabeth W. Dunn and Claire Ashton-James ran a study in which half of the participants received short briefs about longer newspaper articles. Some got briefs saying that five people died, while the others got briefs saying that 10,000 people died. These “forecasters” were then asked how sad they would feel if they were to read the whole article, on a scale of one to nine. Not surprisingly, people in the 10,000-victim group predicted sadder responses than people in the five-victim group.

The other half of the participants were randomly assigned as “experiencers,” who read the full newspaper articles and then simply reported how sad they felt afterward. That is, they were not predicting their future emotional states, but merely reporting their current states. And a startling thing…
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