Paul Slovic, PhD, is a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon and founder and president of Decision Research, a non-profit research organization investigating human judgment, decision-making, and risk. Dr. Slovic advises University of Oregon students in their research, serves as a consultant to industry and government, and lectured at AIPR’s inaugural Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention in Oświęcim, Poland in May 2008. He investigates judgment and decision processes with an emphasis on decision making under conditions of risk. Dr. Slovic is the author or co-author of more than a dozen books, including The Feeling of Risk (Earthscan, 2010) and The Perception of Risk (Earthscan, 2000).
Dr. Slovic’s most recent research examines psychological factors contributing to apathy toward genocide. His article, “‘If I Look at the Mass I Will Never Act:’ Psychic Numbing and Genocide,” examines why people care more about a single, identifiable human life, than a mass of victims. “Statistics of mass murder or genocide, no matter how large the numbers, fail to convey the true meaning of such atrocities,” he writes. “Recognizing that we cannot rely only upon our moral feelings to motivate proper action against genocide,” adds Slovic, “we must look to moral argument and international law.”
On his personal interest in mass atrocity prevention and dedication to the Auschwitz Institute’s mission to build a world that prevents genocide, he told us:
I was a child during WWII – too young to know about the Holocaust. In the 1970’s, I attended lectures by Elie Wiesel and read his books and these were educational and deeply moving experiences. In my research, I began to study the value that individuals and society places on human lives. I began to show, in laboratory experiments, the difficulties people have in understanding and responding appropriately to mass atrocities, due to a phenomenon called psychic numbing. I was again sensitized to genocide by reading about Rwanda and, later, Darfur. And I was shocked by the apathy toward intervening to save 10s or hundreds of thousands of lives in peril. I have been studying this phenomenon intensely during this past decade and I very much appreciate and support the dedicated efforts of AIPG to educate leaders and motivate actions to combat genocide. I would like to work with AIPG to further develop new and better ways to prevent and mitigate mass assaults on innocent human beings.