Not Just Another Statistic: With Guests Carol Quirke & Deborah Small

August 30, 2021
Why are we more motivated by individuals and their stories rather than large numbers or statistical information?

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After you listen

Planning for distant events like retirement might seem abstract, but identifying concrete goals along the way can help you make your retirement plans real.

Planning for distant events like retirement might seem abstract, but identifying concrete goals along the way can help you make your retirement plans real.

You may notice that charity campaigns tend to focus on the stories of one or two individuals or families, and that those stories are often rich with emotional content but light on information and statistics. There’s a reason for that.

In this episode of Choiceology with Katy Milkman, we look at the different ways we tend to be captivated and motivated by individuals and their stories, while on the other hand, we often become numb or disengaged when presented with large numbers or statistical information.

Carol Quirke tells the story of Dorothea Lange and her most famous photograph. Dorothea Lange was a documentary photographer who did important work raising awareness of the plight of migrant workers during the Great Depression. But one of her photos stands above the rest: Migrant Mother. You’ll hear the story of how that photograph came to be and the effect it had on public policy.

You can view the image online at the Library of Congress.

Carol Quirke is a professor at SUNY Old Westbury and the author of Eyes on Labor and Dorothea Lange, Documentary Photography, and the Twentieth Century: Reinventing Self and Nation.

Next, Deborah Small joins Katy to discuss two separate but related phenomena that describe the way we process information about small and large numbers. You can read her paper with George Loewenstein called "Helping a Victim of Helping the Victim: Altruism and Identifiability" for a deeper explanation of the identifiable-victim effect, and you can learn more about scope insensitivity through the work of Paul Slovic and others in the paper "Scope Insensitivity: The Limits of Intuitive Valuation of Human Lives in Public Policy."

Deborah Small is the Laura and John J. Pomerantz Professor of Marketing and Psychology at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Finally, Katy gives you simple strategies to help put larger numbers in context and to make better decisions around seemingly abstract statistics.

Choiceology is an original podcast from Charles Schwab. 

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