photo © 2009 Ed Yourdon | more info (via: Wylio)Fundraisers have long seen that natural disasters are more compelling reasons for making a situational charitable donation than tragedies sourced to some sort of human incompetence or malfeasance. Hurricane Katrina, the earthquakes in Chile and Haiti and the Indian Ocean tsunami on 2004 had donors breaking out their checkbooks and credits cards to give what they could to those whose homes had been obliterated.
But giving during last summer’s Gulf Oil spill didn’t see an outpouring of financial support. BP and friends were quickly tagged as responsible by spectators and the government, which left Gulf Coast Residents on their own.
A recently published study in the European Journal of Social Psychology shows this bias in play. Holloway University researchers found subjects more willing to provide assistance to those suffering from natural disasters than man-made ones in 4 different scenarios.
“People perceive victims of humanly caused events in more negative terms, even when there is no information available about the victims’ blameworthiness,” Zagefka and her colleagues conclude. “This amounts to a systemic bias against people suffering from humanly caused disasters.”
The researchers attribute this unfortunate tendency to the Just World Hypothesis, which asserts that humans are strongly inclined to view the world as fundamentally fair, orderly and predictable. To defend this belief, “Potential donors are motivated to blame the victims when given the slightest chance,” they write.
That same attitude seems to apply to the social safety net that politicians argue endlessly about. Post welfare reform in the 90s, Americans who struggle to make ends meet are more likely to be demonized by politicians looking to score a quick rhetorical point or to save money via safety net budget cuts than they are to receive a helping hand in their community.
More than 15 million Americans are unemployed. 1 in 8 Americans is on food stamps. One in 5 children lives below the poverty level. And roughly 1 percent of Americans will spend part of any given year homeless.
Some would have us believe those numbers are because a segment of the population hasn’t been making the effort to succeed, so it’s not my problem.
But how do we appropriately assign responsibility for poor life outcomes and provide the necessary support to break the cycles of poverty and crime, when we instinctively blame the person stuck in the cycle? How do we acknowledge the contribution of the circumstances that led to a person becoming a sad statistic, so that we can begin to correct those common injustices for the next generation?