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The Ice Bucket Racket

Raising more than $115 million for ALS research, the ice bucket challenge was an immense success in appealing to the people. While other foundations how since tried similar tactics, none of them has been nearly as successful. The nature of our altruism is the interest of many researchers. While there is a lot of evidence for self-interest (i.e. enhancing our reputation) in our reasons to donate money, there is also evidence for empathy. Research has shown that we do have a natural ability sympathize and empathize, but we also do not want to be exploited. Therefore, the key to fundraising success is to “infiltrate this protective buffer”.  Sander van der Linden, a social psychologist thinks that the reason the ice bucket challenge was such a success is because it “forced people to either accept the task or suffer damage to their reputations”, it appealed to our narcissism by allowing us to take selfies/videos of ourselves, and it created a martyrdom effect (The “painful” experience of the ice bucket challenge makes the act of donating money more meaningful).  The martyrdom effect is also something interesting to look at. van der Linden claims that, “If you’re going to elicit money from people, it helps to have some way of doing it that is at least slightly painful, since that makes the whole experience about more than just giving away what may be a relatively trivial amount of money”.  It makes one wonder if we subconsciously are aware of our selfishness when it comes to making decisions and want to feel less guilty.

The success of the ice-bucket challenge in raising money can be related to the direct benefit principle, which we have been looking at in class. People did the ice bucket challenge/donated by following the crowd because they felt they’ll gain an explicit benefit. By following the crowd, people enhance their reputation as a generous person. Moreover, because the challenge appealed to our natural narcissism, it was fun for us to film ourselves dumping a bucket of ice water and challenging our friends to do the challenge and/or donate. In addition, the more people did the challenge and donated, the more popular the ice-bucket challenge became. The challenge became something you wanted to do because your peers were doing it, and it can be arguably said that sometimes the disease was sometimes forgotten.  Some people did not even know what ALS was, and they were donating or doing the ice bucket challenge simply because their friends were doing it and the act was considered something popular to do, making them more popular among their friends.


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