Research & Insights

Your Audience’s Personal Values Are More Important Than Yours

Guess what? More research confirms that we respond best to calls to charity for people different from us when messages are framed in terms of our personal principles.

A study, published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, involved two experiments and was conducted by psychologist Mitchell M. Lorenz and his colleagues. Both experiments involved participants who were asked to help others who either shared a group membership with the participants or were part of an out-group.

The first study for instance, involved students asked about their willingness to help an in-group or out-group as defined by religion. Seventy-six Catholic undergraduates were asked to read a newspaper article about hunger in their city and the need to support food banks. Half of the participants saw an article, which described the recipients of food as Catholic (an in-group for Catholic students), while the other half described them as Jewish (an out-group for Catholic students).

The articles also varied in how they described the goal of the charity. Some saw a power appeal – an appeal that emphasized taking action. The power appeal read “By participating [in the food drive], you will be helping the society reach its goal of feeding 50…families in the area during winter months.” Other participants saw a values appeal which emphasized principles and justice: “By participating, you will be raising awareness and letting others knows of the injustice of hunger as well as your outrage and frustration at the lack of funding for food banks.”

The participants then filled out a survey which examined their willingness to help the food bank both in terms of volunteering and monetary donations. The researchers found that when the beneficiaries of the food bank were described as Catholic, participants were more likely to help when presented with an action-based appeal. However, when the beneficiaries were described as Jewish, the values-based appeal was more effective at encouraging participants to help.

A second experiment involved similar prompts and used nationality-based in-groups and out-groups. Participants in this study – all Americans – were asked whether they would be willing to provide aid for either American (in-group) or Jamaican (out-group) victims of Hurricane Sandy. This experiment found similar results, with “American participants were more likely to help the in-group, Americans, when presented with power-oriented goals compared with a value oriented-goal, but were more likely to help the out-group, Jamaicans, when given value-oriented goals.”

Although they “are not claiming that power-oriented goals do not motivate help for outgroups, or that value oriented goals do not motivate help for ingroups,” the study suggests that “appealing to the idea of expressing and supporting values is a more effective means of increasing the likelihood that people will donate to a charity that benefits outgroup members.”

“An important implication of this research is that the message communicated by a group has an effect on peoples’ willingness to help depending on who the benefactor of the help will be,” the authors note.

Journal of Applied Social Psychology

Mitchell M. Lorenz, Ruth H. Warner, and Molly J. VanDeursen, Saint Louis University

Posted: October 19, 2015
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