Testing the Effects of Message Framing on Support for Poverty Relief

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Principal investigator:

Robb Willer

Stanford University

Email: willer@stanford.edu

Homepage: http://robbwiller.org/


Sample size: 2100

Field period: 7/27/2010-11/30/2010

Abstract

Relative to other industrialized, Western nations, the United States is uniquely reliant on non-governmental organizations to provide public goods, including relief services for the poor. Research on charitable provision, however, finds a consistent gender gap in Americans’ giving, with women bearing a significantly greater share of the burden than men. Here we investigate what explains men’s lower levels of giving and what can counteract the pattern. In a large-scale, internet-based experiment on a nationally representative sample, men reported less willingness to give money or volunteer time to a poverty relief organization. This gap was mediated by men’s lower reported feelings of empathy for others. We tested a variety of different ways of framing antipoverty efforts and charitable giving suggested by past research. Framing the poverty issue as one that affects everyone, and contributions to anti-poverty organizations as benefitting the whole society, increased men’s willingness to give and volunteer, eliminating the gender gap. Mediation analysis revealed that this “shared fate” framing worked by increasing men’s reported poverty concern, not by changing their understanding of the causes of poverty. No other framing approaches had consistent effects. These findings fit well with past research showing that self-interest can be transformed into group motivation when a feeling of shared fate among members of a group exists.

Experimental Manipulations

We tested four different experimental treatments, each exposed study participants to a message reflecting a different way that one could frame the importance of a poverty relief organization (a fifth, control condition featured no message). These four treatments deployed four different social psychological mechanism to promote giving: conformity/social proof, efficacy, injustice, and shared fate.

Outcomes

Willingness to give money and volunteer time to the poverty-relief organization.

Summary of Results

Men reported less willingness to give money or volunteer time to a poverty relief organization. This gap was mediated by men’s lower reported feelings of empathy for others. Framing the poverty issue as one that affects everyone, and contributions to anti-poverty organizations as benefitting the whole society, increased men’s willingness to give and volunteer, eliminating the gender gap. Mediation analysis revealed that this “shared fate” framing worked by increasing men’s reported poverty concern, not by changing their understanding of the causes of poverty. No other framing approaches had consistent effects.

References

References

Willer, Robb, Christopher Wimer, and Lindsay Owens. 2012. "What Can Make Men Give to the Poor? A Sense of Shared Fate Transforms Self-Interest into Group Motivation." Working paper. Department of Sociology. University of California. Berkeley, CA.