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Is it better to save 4,500 lives out of 11,000 or 4,500 lives out of 250,000? Fetherstonhaugh ‎et al. (1997) showed that people prefer the former: to save lives if they are a higher ‎proportion of the total, a phenomenon they termed “psychophysical numbing”. We ‎attempted to replicate Studies 1 and 2 of Fetherstonhaugh et al. (1997) (5 data collections, ‎total N = 4799, MTurk and Prolific, USA and UK), and added several extensions (e.g., ‎donation amounts, procedural differences, and individual-level ideology and knowledge). ‎We found mixed support, with two successful replications of Study 2 that indeed showed ‎psychophysical numbing (original: η2p = 0.55, 90% CI [0.45, 0.62], Study 2a: η2p = 0.62, 90% ‎CI [0.58, 0.66], Study 2b: η2p = 0.24, 90% CI [0.21, 0.27], all in same direction), yet also ‎three unsuccessful replications of Study 1 showing instead an opposite psychophysical ‎sensitization, a preference for saving a smaller proportion of lives (original effect size: η2p = ‎‎0.14, 90% CI [0.02, 0.28], replications: Study 1a: η2p = 0.06, 90% CI [0.02, 0.10], Study 1b: ‎η2p = 0.21, 90% CI [0.17, 0.26]; Study 1c: η2p = 0.13, 90% CI [0.08, 0.17], all in the opposite ‎direction). We discuss theoretical implications and potential drivers of psychophysical ‎numbing and sensitization, including evaluation mode, comparison procedure, ideology, ‎knowledge, and prioritizing of one’s own country, and practical implications for research on ‎perceptions of charity, aid effectiveness, and donations. Materials, preregistrations, data, ‎and analyses are available at https://osf.io/786jg/. ‎
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Numbing or Sensitization? Replications and Extensions of Fetherstonhaugh et al. (1997)'s
“Insensitivity to the Value of Human Life”
*Ignazio Ziano
Department of Marketing, Grenoble Ecole de Management,
F-38000 Grenoble (France)
ORCID: 0000-0002-4957-3614
ignazio.ziano@grenoble-em.com
*Qinyu Xiao
Department of Psychology, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR
xqy1020@connect.hku.hk
*Siu Kit Yeung
Department of Psychology, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR
u3517520@connect.hku.hk
*Cho Yan Joan Wong, *Mei Yee Sena Cheung,
*Joey Lo, *Melody Yan,
*Gregorius Ivan Narendra, *Kandy Li Wing Kwan, *Rachel Ching Sum Chow, *Chak Yam Man
Department of Psychology, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR
wcy411@hku.hk, u35390181@hku.hk / nsl19980716@gmail.com,
joey0919@hku.hk/ joeylochungyi@gmail.com, u35382213@hku.hk / yanhcmelody@gmail.com,
u3534477@hku.hk / narendraivan@gmail.com, kandywk@hku.hk / liwingkwan8@gmail.com,
u3537870@connect.hku.hk / rachelchow555@gmail.com, u3544200@connect.hku.hk /
jackyman7151997@gmail.com
^*Gilad Feldman
Department of Psychology, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR
ORCID: 0000-0003-2812-6599
gfeldman@hku.hk / giladfel@gmail.com
*Contributed equally, joint first author
^Corresponding author: Gilad Feldman, gfeldman@hku.hk
Author bios
Ignazio Ziano is an assistant professor at the Department of Marketing, Grenoble Ecole de
Management. His research focuses on consumer behaviour and judgment and decision-making.
Siu Kit Yeung is a Master of Philosophy student at the University of Hong Kong Department of
Psychology. His research focuses on Judgment and Decision-Making, as well as Meta/Open-
Science.
Qinyu Xiao is an M.Phil. candidate at the Department of Psychology, University of Hong Kong.
His research focuses on moral judgment, choice architecture, and social cognition.
Cho Yan Joan Wong, Mei Yee Sena Cheung, Joey Lo, Melody Yan, Gregorius Ivan Narendra,
Kandy Li Wing Kwan, Rachel Ching Sum Chow, and Chak Yam Man were undergraduate
students at the University of Hong Kong psychology department during academic year 2019-20.
Gilad Feldman is an assistant professor with the University of Hong Kong psychology
department. His research focuses on judgment and decision-making.
Declaration of Conflict of Interest
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interests with respect to the authorship and/or
publication of this article.
Financial disclosure/funding
The research was supported by the European Association for Social Psychology seedcorn grant
awarded to the corresponding author.
Authorship declaration
Cho Yan Joan Wong, Mei Yee Sena Cheung, Joey Lo, Melody Yan, Gregorius Ivan Narendra,
Kandy Li Wing Kwan, Rachel Ching Sum Chow, and Chak Yam Man completed pre-
registrations and drafted reports for one of the four studies presented here, in groups of two.
Gilad led the replication efforts, supervised each step in the projects, conducted the
pre-registrations, and ran data collections. Kit and Qinyu, supervised by Ignazio, followed up on
initial work by the other coauthors to verify analyses and conclusions, and performed new ones,
and completed the methods and results sections of the manuscript submission draft (Qinyu did
Studies 1a and 1b and Kit did Studies 2a and 2b). Ignazio analyzed Study 1c, verified by Qinyu
and Kit. Ignazio, Kit, Qinyu, and Gilad jointly designed Study 1c and finalized the manuscript
for submission.
Acknowledgments
We thank Ioannis Evangelidis and Bram Duyx for their useful and kind feedback on previous
drafts.
Availability of data and material / Code availability
Materials, preregistrations, data, and analyses are available at https://osf.io/786jg/
Corresponding author
Gilad Feldman, Department of Psychology, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR;
gfeldman@hku.hk
Contribution
In the table below, we employ CRediT (Contributor Roles Taxonomy) to identify the
contribution and roles played by the contributors in the current replication effort. Please refer to
the url (https://www.casrai.org/credit.html ) on details and definitions of each of the roles listed
below.
Role
Ignazio
Ziano


Qinyu
Xiao
Gilad
Feldman
Cho Yan Joan Wong Mei
Yee Sena Cheung Joey Lo
Melody Yan Gregorius Ivan
Narendra Kandy Li Wing
Kwan Rachel Ching Sum
Chow Chak Yam Man
Conceptualization
X
Pre-registration
X
X
Data curation
X
Formal analysis
X
X
X
X
Funding acquisition
X
Investigation
X
X
X
X
X
Methodology
X
X
X
Pre-registration peer
review / verification
X
X
X
X
X
Data analysis peer
review / verification
X
X
X
X
Project
administration
X
Resources
X
Software
X
X
X
X
X
Supervision
X
X
Validation
X
X
X
Visualization
X
X
X
Writing-original
draft
X
X
X
Writing-review and
editing
X
X
X
X
Fetherstonhaugh et al. (1997): Replications and extensions 17
Table 2
Comparing the designs of the replications and the original study
Phase
Original
Study 1a
Study 1b
Study 1c
Main
study
Participants compared
Programs A to D in
pairs (i.e., A vs. B, A
vs. C, A vs. D, B vs. C,
B vs. D; C vs. D was
omitted) in one of two
random orders.
Participants first
compared Programs A
to D in pairs (like in the
original study). The
order of pairs was
randomized for each
participant.
Participants first compared Program A to D
in pairs (like in the original study). A vs. B
was always the first pair. The order in which
A and B served as the comparison program
was randomized, so was the order of the two
refugee programs. But the two refugee
programs were always compared with the
same domestic program consecutively.
Participants first compared Programs
A to D in pairs (like in the original
study). The order of pairs was
randomized for each participant.
Extension
N/A
Participants then
compared Program A,
B, E, and F in pairs (A
vs. E, A vs. F, B vs. E,
and B vs. F). Because
there were four pairs (no
more A vs. B), there
were 24 possible orders.
Programs E and F
considered Haiti rather
than Rwanda as a target
country.
Participants repeated the task after they learnt
that other 15 countries were also considering
similar refugee programs.
Participants directly compared aid to
the smaller and the larger camp, and
completed measures of political
ideology and familiarity with refugee
crises at the moment, an estimation
of the number of refugee in five
countries, rated the importance of
each aid program and were asked to
allocate $100 million across them.
Note. The comparisons were done on a 13-point scale as shown in Figure 1.