The broadcast of media reports about moral crises such as famine can subtly depress rather than activate moral concern. Whereas much research has examined the effects of media reports that people attend to, social psychological analysis suggests that what goes unattended can also have an impact. We test the idea that when vivid news accounts of human suffering are broadcast in the background but ignored, people infer from their choice to ignore these accounts that they care less about the issue, compared to those who pay attention and even to those who were not exposed. Consistent with research on self-perception and attribution, three experiments demonstrate that participants who were nudged to distract themselves in front of a television news program about famine in Niger (Study 1), or to skip an online promotional video for the Niger famine program (Study 2), or who chose to ignore the famine in Niger television program in more naturalistic settings (Study 3) all assigned lower importance to poverty and to hunger reduction compared to participants who watched with no distraction or opportunity to skip the program, or to those who did not watch at all.
Paluck, E. L., Shafir, E., & Wu, S. J. (2017). Ignoring alarming news brings indifference: Learning about the world and the self. Cognition, 167, 160–171. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2017.03.017