Do Donors Care About Your Solution or the Problem?
April 17, 2023
Roger and Kevin
Would you be more willing to help the spotted owl if a solution offered to save 10% of the habitat or 50%? Randomized experiments show it doesn’t matter. Odd, right?
What about swapping out the spotted owl for reptiles? Support goes down. But, swap in turtles for lizards and support goes back up.
Your $.50 scrabble word for today is “monotonicity”, which is a mathematical concept but also a logic concept. Support for the sub-category, turtles, shouldn’t be higher than support for the broader category, reptiles.
What’s going on here? Human beings are messy.
Our support is mostly a function of our attitudes about the problem, not the size or scope or thoroughness or efficacy of the solution. I feel more for the spotted owl than the scaly reptile. But the turtle evokes a different attitude.
And we tend to be scope insensitive on both – sizing the problem and the solution.
- Hence why I’m more motivated to help 2,000 birds convulsing in an oil spill than 20,000 birds dying in an oil spill (problem scope insensitivity)
- The 10% vs. 50% solution for owls (solution scope insensitivity)
This is not to suggest that impact (or perceived impact more accurately) is irrelevant. In another experiment people gave more to provide clean water versus bottled with that descriptor being the only difference.
So, what do we take from this?
- The problem matters more than the solution
- Not all problems are creating equal
- The size and scope of the problem and your solution don’t matter much
- Instead, people make quick, heuristic, judgements tied to broad, global attitudes about the importance and severity of the problem
- Importance and severity judgements are malleable. Convulsing birds makes it feel more severe and important to fix. Your instinct about soft and cuddly animals seeming more important is correct.
- Perceived impact is what matters, not actual impact. Judgements on perceived impact are heavily influenced by small details – clean water is a bigger impact than bottled.