Devin Lunt

ORCID Identifier(s)


Graduation Semester and Year




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Marketing



First Advisor

Traci Freling


Researchers and practitioners in the nonprofit domain have long lamented the tendency of people to offer greater aid to a smaller number of victims, in essence de-valuing the lives of victims as the number of victims grows. This is often referred to as Compassion Fade-a greater responsiveness among potential donors to individuals and small numbers of people in need, and lower sensitivity toward larger groups of victims (Markowitz et al. 2013) This dissertation consists of three essays exploring compassion fade and the specific biases that exemplify this phenomenon. The first essay provides a qualitative synthesis of the compassion fade domain as a whole, including a review of current findings of psychophysical numbing, proportion dominance bias, and scope insensitivity studies. The mechanisms by which these effects occur (e.g., other-focused affect, anticipated self-focused affect, and deliberative thoughts) are discussed, along with proposed directions for future research. Demonstrations of the most often studied form of compassion fade bias—known as the “identifiable victim effect” (IVE—abound in the literature. The IVE is quantitatively synthesized in the first essay. As such, the second essay undertakes a meta-analysis of 40 articles (with 144 effect sizes derived from 225,193 observations) spanning almost 30 years suggests that victim identifiability and group size significantly affects potential donors’ helping behaviors, but not their empathetic attitudes. Results also suggest that the IVE is more pronounced for helping behaviors when the victim is vividly depicted, blameless in the situation, and not similar to the potential donor. Nonrecurring issues with severe consequences also result in a stronger IVE. Importantly, sympathy moderates the impact of victim identifiability on empathetic attitudes but not helping behaviors—suggesting that perceived impact or some other mechanism drives the latter. The third essay explores the role of victim blame and responsibility in the compassion fade domain. Blame and responsibility have typically been treated interchangeably in the literature due to a proposition that while attributions of responsibility may include responsibility for the problem and for finding solutions, individuals typically do not distinguish between these two attributions (Brickman et al., 1982). This study empirically demonstrates that blame and responsibility are indeed independent constructs in two scenarios involving a child victim (who is incapable of providing a solution to his/her problem) and an adult victim (who is capable of providing a solution). Results indicate that responsibility for the solution mediates the relationship between victim blame for the problem and key outcomes, such as willingness to contribute and victim deservingness. Additionally, victim blame for the problem only influences willingness to contribute when the victim is perceived as being capable of providing a solution, whereas responsibility for the solution influences willingness to contribute whether the victim is viewed as capable or not.


Compassion fade, Identifiable victim effect, Identifiability bias, Proportion dominance bias, Scope insensitivity, Psychophysical numbing


Business | Marketing


Degree granted by The University of Texas at Arlington

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Marketing Commons