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  • Writer's pictureSara Kuehl

The Singularity Effect: How Storytelling Engages Human Compassion

One-Minute Reads: Explore the psychology of nonprofit marketing, one principle at a time

A single child trekking for clean water as an example of the singularity effect

Imagine the 771 million people around the globe who lack access to safe drinking water. Really try to picture them.

Now picture just one child who doesn't have safe water to drink. Imagine his pain, his frustration, his hopes.

Who do you feel more connected to: the 771 million or the single child?

You've just experienced two psychological phenomena:

  1. psychic numbing

  2. the singularity effect

Human compassion has limits. Psychological researcher Paul Slovic has found the human mind struggles to empathize with a large group of people. That's psychic numbing. And it's one of the reasons why people can be apathetic toward humanitarian crises and social causes.

So how can nonprofits like yours overcome psychic numbing and rally support for your cause?

While humans may be numb to the suffering of large groups of people, we're incredibly receptive to individuals. We will make extraordinary efforts to help a single child or save a person from danger.

sketch illustrating the concept of psychic numbing

sketch illustrating the singularity effect

Telling compelling stories of the individuals you serve can break through psychic numbing and connect people with your larger cause. Accompanying images or videos deepen the emotional connection. But that connection fades within a few weeks.

Once people are awakened to the situation, use that window of opportunity to engage them. Give people something to do about it. Show them where to donate, ways to volunteer, how to advocate for change. If you'd like help putting this principle into action, consider working with a freelance nonprofit copywriter.

🧠 How to Spark the Singularity Effect: Share an emotional story about an individual, accompanied by a strong call to action


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Image by Josefin

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