19 January 2011

Of Course! People Donate More to Disaster Victims.

Joe Turner brought to my attention a study from Royal Holloway, University of London revealed:
[P]eople are more likely to donate to victims of disasters that are perceived to have natural causes, such as floods or earthquakes, rather than humanly caused factors.
The findings show that people are more willing to part with their cash for victims of disasters such as the Tsunami, Haiti earthquake or more recently the floods in Australia and Brazil. But there is a reluctance to donate to victims of humanly caused events such as wars or civil conflict, such as the Darfur crisis, because those victims are blamed more for their plight even if they are objectively blameless. 
Dr Hanna Zagefka, from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, explains: “In line with the ‘Just World Belief’ hypothesis, people have an inherent need to believe that the world is just, and so the suffering of innocents calls into question this just world belief. In order to protect it, people try to construe suffering as just whenever possible, and generally humanly caused events provide more opportunity for victim blame than naturally caused events. In addition, the research shows that victims of natural disasters are generally also perceived to make more of an effort to help themselves, and people like to ‘reward’ those who are proactive by donating to them.”
This reveals nothing that was not already assumed.  Any casual viewer would know that the outpouring of support for Haiti in a single day exceeded that of the entire Save Darfur campaign.  As Dr. Zagefka points out, this can be attributed to the just-world fallacy.  It ties directly to the fallacy of hard work that is well illustrated by Michael over at Chasing Fat Tails yesterday as he used the example of achievement in basketball to illustrate his point.
What is most troubling is the fact that the just-world fallacy when met with cognitive dissonance will lead to accusations of lack of work ethic and/or drive.  Having worked as a teacher, it became easy to call kids lazy when they did not do their homework.  The truth was that they had been failed by education for so long that the moment school work appeared on their desk, they shut down.  By not trying, failure was not possible since they did nothing.  For many in the world, including the US, ‘working hard’ will never be enough to achieve success.  So why do so many of us continue to believe it to be true?
It is important that we understand how this applies to ourselves.  We want to believe that we worked hard and have deserved everything which has come in our lives.  This thought process is what perpetuates the just-world fallacy and allows us to look through a lens that leads our assessment to say that hard work equals success and those who are not successful did not work hard enough.  If we believe that there are other forces that place us at different points, it would call into question the very idea of hard work.