1 Testing the Effects of Message Framing on Support for Poverty Relief Journal: Manuscript ID: TESS-00.R Manuscript Type: Original Article Specialty Area: Sociology
2 Page of Testing the Effects of Message Framing on Support for Poverty Relief Introduction Relative to other developed, Western democracies, the United States is unique for maintaining a relatively small welfare state and offering lower levels of public assistance to the poor (Lipset ; Smeeding 00). The U.S. is also distinct for its heavy reliance on non-governmental organizations (e.g., churches, secular charities) for the funding and delivery of relief services to the poor (Katz 00). Because of this reliance on non-governmental organizations (NGOs), it is especially important to develop a strong understanding of what types of messages and appeals are effective at eliciting concern and support among Americans for the poor and the NGOs that serve them. This information is of particular relevance now, as the U.S. struggles to combat the rising unemployment and poverty. Relatively little is known about what poverty-related messages are most effective at eliciting concern and monetary contributions to poverty relief organizations, despite the great practical relevance of this information. While this question is significant to social science research on public opinion, stratification, and poverty, thus far little systematic academic research exists on the topic. Past research has often focused on the significant roles played by racial attitudes (e.g., Hunt 00), party affiliation (e.g., Moore et al. ), and religiosity (e.g., Regnerus et al. ) on charitable giving to poverty-related causes. Comparatively less research has systematically investigated the causal role that different sorts of information and frames might have on attitudes. Filling this gap would be valuable in at least two ways; it would: ) contribute to academic understanding of the causal forces shaping individuals views on poverty, and social problems more generally, and ) offer practical knowledge for relief organizations seeking to raise funds and awareness regarding poverty.
3 Page of Theory and research from linguistics, psychology, and political science shows large impacts of framing on the interpretation of and reaction to messages (Lakoff ; Rothman and Salovey ). This research shows that even small wording changes in how an issue is presented can lead to sizable differences in attitudes and behavior. We propose to extend research on message framing to investigate what sorts of messages lead Americans to care more about poverty. To this end we propose to conduct an experiment via TESS in which respondents are exposed to one of several different messages regarding poverty or poverty relief organizations. We will then assess the effects of these different messages on attitudes towards the poor, poverty-related policies, and intentions to donate money to poverty-relief. The specific messages we investigate are culled from past research in political psychology, sociology, and social psychology. Below we review background literature on the different message frames we propose to test before presenting the proposed experimental design and materials. Background Theory and Research We draw on past research from psychology, political science, and sociology in identifying four potential approaches to framing that could affect attitudes toward poverty and support for poverty relief. Conformity/Social Proof. Conformity pressure and social influence are among the most widely studied influences on attitudes and behavior (Asch ). Abundant research from social psychology and beyond shows that individuals tend to assimilate to the perceived attitudes of others. This tendency has been called the principle of social proof: we view a behavior as correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it (Cialdini 00). Past research finds that interventions based on the principle of social proof tend to work. For example, field experiments on littering (Cialdini et al. 0) and conservation (Goldstein et al.
4 Page of ) find that framing a pro-environmental behavior as highly popular is effective at increasing the rate of that behavior. Given consistent evidence supporting the effectiveness of messages based on social proof, a comparable approach could be effective for encouraging individuals to care about poverty and contribute to poverty relief. Efficacy. A critical factor influencing individuals decisions to give to some collective effort is their feeling that their costly giving will have some discernible impact (Komorita and Parks ). If giving is unlikely to make a difference in correcting a social problem or producing a public good, then individuals are unlikely to engage in it, especially if it is individually costly. Feelings that one can make a difference have been implicated in diverse prosocial behaviors, from rescuing Jews during the holocaust (Oliner and Oliner ) to participating in the anti-communist protests that eventually felled the Berlin Wall (Opp ). While perceved efficacy is likely always an issue in charitable giving, it is especially likely to be an impediment in the case of poverty relief. Individuals may be worried that large portions of their giving will go toward administrative costs associated with maintaining relief organizations. They may also worry that governmental or organizational actors simply do not know how to successfully address poverty (Walker 000). Thus, a likely factor influencing individuals willingness to contribute to charitable relief is their view of the efficacy of their action as well as the efficacy of the organizations to which they may give. Clear Injustice. A great deal of research in political psychology focuses on the reluctance of individuals to accept and attach significance to social injustice. This tendency has led researchers to conjecture that people have a widespread belief that the world is, in general, just and fair. People tend to bring other thoughts in line with their belief in a just world in order to reduce cognitive dissonance (Lerner and Miller ). Thus, when individuals hear information
5 Page of on the extent of social problems their first reaction is often to dismiss the information in favor of their deeply-seated belief in a just world (Lerner 0). In the case of poverty relief, the belief that the world is just is a significant impediment given the well-documented tendency to attribute the causes of poverty to the poor themselves (e.g., Lipkus ; Lane 00). When such an attribution is made, support for efforts to reduce poverty is less likely. A framing approach that avoids this tendency entails focusing on targets that are not easily viewed as deserving their poverty, like the working poor or impoverished children (Furnham ). Shared Fate. A powerful, fundamental motive for human behavior is self-interest. The temptation to behave in a strictly self-interested way reduces the likelihood that individuals will make costly contributions to public goods (Olson ; Kollock a). Given the power of self-interest, a useful way to promote costly contributions to group efforts is to emphasize how individual and collective efforts are the same (Kollock b). In the case of poverty relief, a useful approach might be to emphasize that the entire economy and society suffers because of poverty and unemployment, a perspective that may lead individuals to view their self-interest as aligned with that of the poor. Creating a feeling of shared fate may be effective in leading individuals to view their own self-interest as indistinguishable from that of the larger group (Sherif et al. ; Tajfel and Turner ), including its impoverished members. Study Design and Hypotheses We propose to analyze the effects of exposure to poverty-related message frames guided by the above-reviewed theory and research. The study has two basic parts. First, we will present respondents with a description of a fictitious poverty relief organization followed by a specific message from the organization s director. Participants will be randomly assigned one of four messages (or, in a control condition, no message) designed to test the above reviewed
6 Page of mechanisms (see Appendix A). Thus, depending on condition, respondents will be shown messages designed to create the impression that a great number of Americans give to poverty relief (conformity/social proof), contributions to the organization will have meaningful effects (efficacy), poverty affects innocent, blameless children (belief in a just world), or the economy is highly interdependent and poverty affects us all (shared fate). Following exposure to the message manipulation, we will assess possible effects on various measures of respondents views on poverty, including their attitudes towards the poor, views of the specific poverty relief organization, and intentions to donate money to the organization (see Appendix B). Our primary motivation is to test whether the treatments lead to more favorable views of poverty relief. We will also analyze how effects might vary across individuals using TESS standard battery of demographic and socioeconomic questions. Finally, respondents will be debriefed (Appendix C) regarding the mild deception in the messages. We propose showing 00 respondents a short message ( unit) and asking them questions ( units). We request assignment of 00 respondents to the control condition (Condition ) and 00 to each treatment condition (Conditions -). Our intended strategy in analysis will be to investigate which, if any, of the treatment conditions increase poverty concerns and interests in donating to poverty relief, over and above the control condition. We do not intend to compare effect sizes across treatment conditions since the magnitude of these manipulations across distinct independent variables cannot be strictly controlled. We also intend to use the pre-manipulation questions we propose and demographic data to look for possible moderators of the hypothesized treatment effects.
7 Page of References Asch, Solomon E.. Effects of Group Pressure Upon the Modification and Distortion of Judgments. Pp. -0 in Groups, Leadership, and Men (Ed. H. Guetzkow). Pittsburgh: Carnegie Press. Cialdini, Robert B. 00. Influence: Science and Practice., th edition. Boston: Allyn and Bcon. Cialdini, Robert B., Raymond R. Reno, and Carl A. Kallgren. 0. A Focus Theory of Normative Conduct: Recycling the Concept of Norms to Reduce Littering in Public Places. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. :0-0. Deutsch, Morton and Harold B. Gerard.. A Study of Normative and Informational Social Influences upon Individual Judgment. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. :-. Furnham, Adrian. The Just World, Charitable Giving, and Attitudes to Disability. Personality and Individual Differences. : -. Goldstein, Noah J., Robert B. Cialdini, and Vladas Griskevicius. 00. A Room With a Viewpoint: Using Social Norms to Motivate Environmental Conservation in Hotels. Journal of Consumer Research. :-. Hunt, Matthew O. 00. Race/Ethnicity and Beliefs about Wealth and Poverty. Social Science Quarterly. :- Katz, Michael B. 00. The Price of Citizenship: Redefining the American Welfare State. New York, NY: Metropolitan Books. Kollock, Peter. a. Social Dilemmas: The Anatomy of Cooperation. Annual Review of Sociology. :-. Kollock, Peter. b. Transforming Social Dilemmas: Group Identity and Cooperation. Pp -0 in Modeling Rational and Moral Agents, edited by Peter Danielson. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Komorita, Samuel S., and Craig D. Parks.. Social Dilemmas. Dubuque, IA: Brown and Benhmark Lakoff, George.. Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives. Chicago: University of Chicago. Lane, Robert E. Self-Reliance and Empathy: The Enemies of Poverty-and of the Poor. 00. Political Psychology. : -
8 Page of Lerner, Melvin J., and Dale T. Miller.. Just World Research and the Attribution Process: Looking Back and Ahead. Psychological Bulletin, :00-0. Lerner, Melvin. 0. The Belief in a Just World. New York: Plenum Press. Lipkus, Isaac M.. The Belief in a Just World and Perceptions of Discrimination. Journal of Psychology, : Lipset, Seymour Martin.. American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword. New York: Norton. Moore, Charles H., David W. Sink, and Patricia Hoban-Moore. The Politics of Homelessness. PS: Political Science and Politics. :-. Oliner, Samuel P., and Pearl M. Oliner.. The Altruistic Personality.New York: Free Press. Olson, Mancur.. The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups. Harvard: Cambridge. Opp, Karl-Dieter.. The Rationality of Political Protest: A Comparative Analysis of Rational Choice Theory. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Rothman, Alexander J.,,and Peter Salovey.. "Shaping Perceptions to Motivate Healthy Behavior: The Role of Message Framing. Psychological Bulletin. : -. Sherif, Muzafer, O.J. Harvey, B. Jack White, William R. Hood, and Carolyn W. Sherif.. The Robbers Cave Experiment: Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan. Smeeding, T. M. 00. Poverty, Work, and Policy: The United States in Comparative Perspective. In Social Stratification: Class, Race, and Gender in Sociological Perspective, rd edition, edited by David Grusky. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp.. Tajfel, Henri. and Turner, John.. An Integrative Theory of Intergroup Conflict. Pp. - in W. G. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole. Walker, Gary The Policy Climate for Early Adolescent Initiatives. Pp/ -0 in Youth Development: Issue, Challenges and Directions. (Public/Private Ventures, ed).
9 Page of APPENDIX A INTRODUCTION (All Conditions) The Coalition to Reduce Poverty (CRP) today announced the launch of a fundraising drive to raise $ million dollars through small donations. CRP provides direct assistance and services to help low-income families escape poverty. Condition : No Message (Control) Condition : Conformity/Social Proof Below is an excerpt from CRP s recent call for contributions: When you give to CRP, you join your fellow citizens in helping to fight poverty. The poor are now being helped by record numbers of charitable givers across the country. You can join the movement to eliminate poverty with your contribution to CRP. Condition : Efficacy Below is an excerpt from CRP s recent call for contributions: When you give to CRP, your donation counts. Multiple external audits confirm that more than % of donations to CRP go on to directly benefit the poor. You can be assured CRP will put your contribution to work by using your donation to fight poverty effectively. Condition : Clear Injustice Below is an excerpt from CRP s recent call for contributions: When you give to CRP, you help fight the clear injustice of poverty today. Millions of poor people suffer greatly every day, either because there aren t enough jobs or because their incomes fall below the poverty line. You can help eliminate the injustice of poverty through your donation to CRP. Condition : Shared Fate Below is an excerpt from CRP s recent call for contributions: When you give to CRP, your donation addresses a problem that affects us all. Research clearly shows that poverty weighs down the economy, exacerbates many social problems, and increases government spending. You can benefit everyone, and help make the economy strong and productive through your donation to CRP.
10 Page of APPENDIX B: Pre-manipulation Questions (to be administered with demographics): How much do you agree or disagree with the following statement? I think basically the world is a just place. Strongly Disagree Strongly Agree How much do you agree or disagree with the following statement? I have faith in the government's ability to solve social problems. Strongly Disagree Strongly Agree How much do you agree or disagree with the following statement? I am often quite touched by things that I see happen. Strongly Disagree Strongly Agree In total, approximately how much money, if any, have you personally contributed to charitable causes (excluding churches and alumni organizations) over the past year? -$0 -$-$ -$00-$ -$00-$ -$00-$ -$,000-$, -$,000 or more Dependent Measures (to be administered after the manipulation): If contacted by CRP, how likely would you be to give a $ donation to this group? Not Likely At All Extremely Likely How likely would you be to volunteer hours of your time on a weekend afternoon with CRP? Not Likely At All Extremely Likely
11 Page 0 of How concerned are you about poverty in relative to other major issues like national security or the environment? Not Concerned At All Extremely Concerned How much would you support a large-scale effort by the U.S. government to reduce poverty? Strongly Oppose Strongly Support How much do you agree with the following statement? The poor are not doing enough to help themselves out of poverty. Strongly Disagree Strongly Agree How much do you agree with the following statement? People are poor because of circumstances beyond their control. Strongly Disagree Strongly Agree Would you like your contact information to be sent to CRP so that they may contact you for a donation or to volunteer some of your time? Yes/No 0
12 Page of APPENDIX C: Debriefing message Thank you for participating in this study. The organization described in part of the study, the Coalition to Reduce Poverty, is fictitious, though there are several organizations in the U.S. much like it that are engaged in outreach to the poor.