An Attributional Analysis of Reactions to Poverty: The Political Ideology of the Giver and the Perceived Morality of the Receiver
Bernard Weiner1, Danny Osborne1, and Udo Rudolph2 Abstract
Personality and Social Psychology Review 15(2) 199–213 © 2011 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc.
Reprints and permission: sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/1088868310387615 http://pspr.sagepub.com
An attributional analysis of reactions to poverty is presented. The article begins by discussing the perceived causes of poverty and their taxonomic properties (locus, stability, and controllability). One antecedent of causal beliefs, political ideology, is then examined in detail, followed by a review of the effects of causal beliefs on emotions and behavior. It is contended that helping the poor is a moral issue, but the moral evaluation concerns the targeted recipient of aid rather than the potential help giver. Persons perceived as responsible for their plight, a dominant construal for conservatives, elicit anger and neglect. In contrast, those seen as not responsible for their financial hardship, an outlook predominantly endorsed by liberals, arouse sympathy and help giving. Sympathy is the most important proximal determinant of aid. This analysis is extended to reactions to achievement failure, abortion, and rape. Policy implications are also examined.
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The implications of this research for trial lawyers are obvious. The personal responsibility bias has enormous impact on how a person's plight is perceived. A person who is perceived as having had control of the cause of the harm s more likely to be judged as morally culpable for his predicament. Thus, causal control and personal responsibility are intimately related. If plaintiff had causal control over the injury then jurors will judge the plaintiff as personally responsible. That is why it is critical to demonstrate the precautions the plaintiff took to avoid being harmed. People who are perceived as responsible for their harm are less likely to receive help. Jurors will be less motivated to help a plaintiff who had the ability to have protected against the injury.
Another big point of this research is that political ideology influences perception. Conservatives are more likely to attribute harm to personally controllable causes. Progressives are more inclined to attribute harm to the situation in which the harm was caused. Moreover, the research suggests that conservatives are willing to help less than progressives. Something that may be worth considering in jury selection.