The effect of belief in a just world and charitable appeal type on donation generosity

Projektarbeit, 2012

47 Seiten



The effect of belief in a just world and charitable appeal type on donation generosity.


High belief in a just world (BJW) has been previously found to impact negatively on donation generosity to dire charitable appeals, because the nature of the appeal fundamentally conflicts with the belief that the world is just. Therefore, the aim of the current study was to see if high belief in a just world would impact negatively on donation generosity to highly emotional charitable appeals, because of a similar conflict with the belief that the world is just. A between groups design was implemented with three different charitable appeal conditions, which varied in the extent to which the appeal were emotive; 'high emotion', 'medium emotion' and 'low emotion'. Two different BJW conditions were also created via a median split, these were low BJW and high BJW. A two way between subjects ANOVA found that there was no significant main effect of belief in a just world type on donation intention, but that there was a significant main effect of charitable appeal type on donation intention and that there was a significant interaction between BJW type and charitable appeal type on donation intention. Further analysis via two one way ANOVAs found that there was no significant difference in donation intention of participants with high BJW across the three charitable appeal conditions, but that there was a significant difference in donation intention of participants with low BJW type across the three charitable appeal conditions. Finally, three, unplanned, paired contrasts were conducted using Tukey's HSD on low BJW type and it was found that donation intention was significantly higher in the high emotion charitable appeal condition, when compared to the medium emotion and low emotion condition. This has been discussed in terms of the implications for charitable advertising, particularly how utilising the current research findings in combination with previous research could result in a higher number of donations when applied to an advertisement that is exposed to a specific, targeted audience that is affiliated with the charity in question.


The theory of planned behaviour relates to the link between attitudes and behaviour. Of particular relevance to the current research is this theory's notion of behavioural intention, which can be described as an individual's readiness to carry out a particular behaviour. It is assumed to be a condition just prior to engaging in a behaviour, such as an act of aggression, or an act of altruism, of which donating money to charity is particularly relevant to the current research (Ajzen, 2002). Oosterhof, Heuvelman and Peters (2009) found that the single greatest and most reliable predictor of the intention to donate to a charitable appeal was past donation behaviour. It is also worth mentioning that news exposure had a positive effect on donation generosity too (i.e. that the more an individual was exposed to news the greater the likelihood of them stating an intention to donate), albeit to a lesser extent when it is the sole predictor. Furthermore, Cheung and Chan (2000) found that the more a target/stimulus (I.e. the main 'character') in a charitable appeal appeared to be in need of help, the more likely it was that a behavioural intention to donate would be expressed. They additionally found that those participants with higher self efficacy (belief in one's ability to perform a given act, e.g. belief in one's ability to pass an assignment) generally tended to have a higher income, which was, moreover, related positively to an intention to donate. Whilst this research highlights factors involved in such intentions, it must be noted that in the latter research a correlation was carried out, meaning that self efficacy and income were related, but not necessarily causal of one another. It could be that a third factor or a number of other factors interact with one another and causes them both.

Nonetheless, income per se does appear to be important in intentions to donate. Lin, Wu, Liu and Lee (2012) for example found that monthly income was the single best predictor in actually carrying out an intention to reduce CO2 emissions, although, as is congruent with the theory of planned behaviour, an intention to do so per se was also a significant predictor.

Similarly, Elliott and Ainsworth (2012) found that behavioural intention predicted actual behaviour in 90% of cases with regards to binge drinking in undergraduate students. Similarly, an earlier study by Elliott and Thomson (2010) found that car driver's speeding behaviour was best predicted by an intention to speed, alongside past speeding behaviour and self efficacy. Presumably, such past speeding behaviour has gone unpunished. One of these researchers carried out a similar study on motorcyclists (Elliott, 2010). Again, it was found that the intention to speed was the single factor that best predicted speeding. However, the researcher noted that the reasons given for speeding in this unique case were related to the motorcyclists self identity, that is, they perceived that they were part of a larger group whereby speeding is a norm and therefore their own speeding behaviour was in line with this.

Other factors, however, have been found to interfere with participants actual carrying out of the behaviours that they intended to. De-Vries, Aarts and Midden (2011) for example found that habits can get in the way of, and obstruct, the actual carrying out of behavioural intentions. In their study, they found that an intention to reduce CO2 levels (as measured by turning off lights) was obstructed by a habit of leaving the light on. Clearly, habits are important insofar as that they affect behavioural intentions. Furthermore, the fact that habits are very individual suggests that other individual differences may also affect intentions to engage in altruistic behaviours, such as BJW.

Belief in a just world was originally conceptualised by Lerner (1965) who described it as a tendency by some individuals to believe that the world is a fair place, whereby good people are always rewarded and bad people are always punished. The problem with such a belief, however, arises when people encounter undeserving innocents experiencing misfortune. Some research examples may help to elucidate the different ways in which individuals may act to overcome such a problem. Hammond, Berry and Rodriguez (2011) found that men with high BJW were likely to assign less responsibility to somebody accused of rape, and more to the victim. Indeed, they were also found to be likely to endorse rape myths, that is, that women deserve to be raped because somehow they were ‘asking for it’. However, Rye, Greatix and Enright (2006) found that female victims were held less responsible in comparison to male victims, who were held most responsible for being raped. Accordingly, it is apparent that gender has an effect on attributions of responsibility.

The negative consequences of BJW are supported by other research. Yamawaki (2009) found that a belief in a just world combined with rape myth endorsement led Japanese college students to blame victims of rape, particularly in cases of date rape (when the victim knows the perpetrator), as opposed to rape by a stranger. Murray, Spudafore and McIntosh (2005) noted how rape victims are one of the main negatively treated groups of people (by those with strong BJW). There are, however, other examples of how BJW can lead to negative appraisals with some being particularly shocking. Wayment, Barger, Tolle and O'Mara (2010), for example, found that America as a whole has been derogated in order to justify the 9/11 attacks by terrorists of the world trade centres. This example of BJW in action is especially compelling, the need to see the world as a just, predictable and fair place led participants to derogate America as a whole, implying that the country itself brought the death of thousands of their own people upon themselves.

Such research examples highlight how, in a lab situation, BJW can lead to some extremely shocking results. Would such results be the same outside of the lab however? . Malachy, Rubin, Licht and Kaiser (2009) set out to investigate this problem and indeed found that to be the case. Their study focussed on social class and examined how increases in wage difference between the classes affected BJW. As predicted, it was found that the working classes were derogated more, the greater the difference in wage. Moreover, Begue, Charmoillaux, Cochet, Cury and De Sureman (2008) conducted research on people that happened to pass by a beggar on the street. It was found that those who had high BJW were likely to donate less than those with low BJW. Therefore, one can conclude that many BJW studies may well be applicable to real life situations also and, furthermore, that BJW can be detrimental to helping disadvantaged groups and victims of disasters. This is thankfully not always the case, as a strong BJW has been found to lead to charitable and altruistic behaviours too.

Correia and Dalbert (2008) found that school children were less likely to engage in bullying behaviours when they had high BJW. Furthermore, Correia, Kamble and Dalbert (2009) found that the stronger the adherence to BJW, the less distressed school pupils felt. The researchers argued that the observed results were due to such pupils believing that if they did nothing deserving of becoming a victim, accordingly, they wouldn’t become one (which is congruent with their belief that the world is just). Moreover, Lucas, Alexander, Firestone and Lebreton (2008) found that participants with a low BJW reported greater stress levels than did those with high BJW levels. What is more, they found that high BJW not only shielded participants from stress, but further stopped them from smoking and encouraged them to engage in regular exercise and other health promoting behaviours. The general message to take from such research is that BJW offers the individual a way to feel in control of the world around them, offering them a sense that the world is predictable, albeit false.

Furthermore, high BJW individuals tend to show a propensity towards authoritarianism (Altemeyer, 1998), conservatism and admiration of political leaders (Skitka and Crosby, 2003), thereby suggesting that they tend to prefer the status quo. They also possess a strong focus on long term investments and a strong desire to obtain goals via socially acceptable means (Hafer, 2000), suggesting that they believe that if enough effort is put into something over an extended period of time, they will be rewarded, justly. Additionally, Dalbert (2002) found that they exhibited less anger and showed higher levels of self esteem. Some researchers have argued that religious affiliation is associated with BJW (Galen and Miller, 2011), as are orthodox religious beliefs (Pichon and Saraglou, 2009). The latter researchers found that those people with orthodox religious beliefs in their study tended to think that victims of natural disasters were responsible for their own dilemmas, i.e. they brought it upon themselves. This was especially found to be the case for those with high BJW for others, a concept which shall now be explored further.

Lipkus, Dalbert and Siegler (1996) proposed that, rather than being a unidimensional concept, as Lerner (1965) first posited, BJW actually has two main components, BJW-Self (BJW-S) and BJW other (BJW-O). Thus, they stated that BJW should be thought of as a multidimensional concept and care should be taken to distinguish between the two types. BJW-S was described as a category of BJW people who believe the world is fair to them personally (Sutton, Douglas, Wilkin, Elder, Cole and Stathi; 2008), but may be unfair to others in different domains for different reasons (e.g. someone in a different social class or country). To the contrary, BJW-O refers to a category of people who believe that the world is fair to all others, and that justice is experienced by all individuals across the globe. Furthermore, Nasser, Doumit and Carifio (2011), found that elderly people in residential care homes that held high BJW-S had better abilities to cope with negative life events than did those who held low BJW-S. In fact, the latter individuals were found to have low well-being scores also. Similarly, Strelan and Sutton (2011) found that high BJW-S enabled their participants to better deal with minor daily stressors. BJW-O, on the other hand, was found to produce no such effect. Forgiveness was also studied by these researchers, again comparing BJW-S to BJW-O. It was found that high BJW-S scores seemed to inhibit people responding negatively to a situation in which they were unfairly treated, whereas for BJW-O negative responses were exhibited.

There have been criticisms of this body of research, however. Hafer and Begue (2005) gave an especially damning critique of BJW research. They suggested that BJW as a measure has been too heavily focussed upon, insofar as that other potentially revealing hypotheses within past studies have been largely neglected. They cite Triplet and Sugarman's (1987) study on AIDS as an example and asserted that their research neglected further hypotheses involving sexual orientation and gender. Furthermore, they claim that O'Quin and Vogler's (1989) study on BJW neglected some potentially revealing dependent variables, with sympathy being one of a myriad of possibilities. Furthermore, they note how past research since the conceptualisation of BJW has at times failed to use emotionally engaging stimuli. Consequently, they argue that such stimuli pose minimal threat to BJW and that participant's responses more than likely reflect social norms appropriate for the situation described, rather than an attempt to maintain a sense of justice. Accordingly, they stress how the stimuli needs to truly engage the participants emotionally, so as to provoke a more automatic response to the dilemma, rather than a social norm abiding reaction. Such stimuli should therefore lead participants to potentially react negatively to helpless victims perhaps by derogating them if they have high BJW, for example.

Other researchers have questioned how high BJW comes about. Fasel and Spini (2010) argued that rather than being a static trait, BJW is actually affected by recent life events. They found, for example, that individuals who suffered many negative life events, and/or a recent negative life event, were more likely to have low BJW. This suggests a cumulative effect, a combination of negative events affects a person's world view. This research was however carried out in some extreme conditions that the general population may not be exposed to (in the study in question, negative life events actually refers to negative life events resulting from war, in a war stricken country).

War is, of course, a human created disaster. Zagefka, Noor, Brown and Hopthrow (2010) addressed the issue of whether a man caused disaster, or a natural disaster, would be more likely to conflict with BJW (as measured by donations). It was found that people were more inclined to donate to victims of naturally caused disasters rather than humanly caused disasters. This was because victims of humanly caused disasters tended to be blamed for their situation and were therefore seen as somewhat responsible and accordingly less deserving of a donation (as BJW was maintained by derogation rather than altruism in this case). The donations were in fact real as well, therefore actual donation behaviour was observed, not just behavioural intention. Furthermore, Oceja, Stocks and Lishner (2010) found that participants were more likely to donate when the target in need and the beneficiary are in fact the same person and Dickert, Sagara and Slovic (2011) found that donation decisions were also based on empathy, that is, that level of empathy predicted donation amount. Similarly, Skinner, Feather, Freeman and Roche (2007) found that positive or negative emotion towards a target predicted the likelihood of attributing blame to them. Therefore, we can see from such research that there are a number of conditions which may influence donating behaviour.

Overall, the wealth of research on BJW seems to have come to the consensus that when the stimuli is emotionally charged to an appropriate degree participants with a high BJW will find the need to restore justice, via derogation or altruism. Much of this research has however been carried out on disaster situations and rape cases, leaving cases of child abuse as reported by the NSPCC largely neglected. As a result, the current research utilises charitable appeals created on the behalf of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). More importantly however, many past studies on BJW have failed to use emotionally engaging stimuli (Hafer and Begue, 2005) leading to reactions that reflect social norms, rather than automatic responses to the dilemma. Accordingly, the current research has utilised charitable appeals differing in their emotional content. Furthermore, research on behavioural intention has found that intention is a great predictor of actual behaviour, therefore the current study will examine intentions to donate to charity and how this is affected by the emotionality of a charitable appeal and levels of BJW. A final study to note is that by Feinberg and Willer (2011) who found that dire messages warning of the severity of global warming and its presumed dangers can backfire by paradoxically increasing scepticism by contradicting BJW. This, along with other research that found that altruism is another means of overcoming natural or manmade disaster situations (Zagefka et al, 2010), has led to the two tailed hypothesis that there will be a main effect of charitable appeal type on intended donation amount. Secondly, Zagefka et al's (2010) research, alongside other research suggesting that BJW type has different effects on donation generosity towards beggars on the street (Begue et al, 2008), has led to the two tailed hypothesis that there will be a main effect of BJW type on intended donation amount. Finally, taking into account the above research by Begue et al (2008), Feinberg and Willer (2011) and Begue et al (2008), has led to the two tailed hypothesis that there will be a significant interaction between charitable appeal type and BJW type on intended donation.



A between groups design was used with two independent variables. The first independent variable was the emotional level of the charitable appeal used. This had three levels. In one condition the situation described in the charitable appeal was highly emotional, in another condition the appeal was moderately emotional and in a third condition the appeal was mildly emotional. The second independent variable was BJW type. This had two levels. These were high BJW and low BJW. These two groups were created using a median split based upon the BJW questionnaire score. The dependent variable was the score derived from the question 5 of the appeal response questionnaire "I will donate the sum of £_________ to the charity mentioned in the appeal" (see appendix 6).

Pilot study

A pilot study was conducted in order to find out how three charitable appeals differed. 15 participants were used. Accordingly, each participant was presented with a copy of all of the charitable appeals. After exposure to these stimuli, participants were presented with three questions. Each question began with a definition of a word (dire, emotion or serious). Participants had to rate on a scale of 1-7 (1 being did not apply, 7 being strongly applied) how well this word applied to each respective charitable appeal. It was found that there was no significant difference between the appeals with regards to seriousness, F(2, 28) = .130, p = .879. It was found that there was no significant difference between the appeals with regards to how dire they were, F(2, 28) = .117, p = .890. It was found that there was no significant difference between the appeals with regards to emotionality, F(2, 28) = .836, p = .444. The means of the latter test were, however, in the order anticipated. Consequently, in the main study these charitable appeals were used and were described as differing in how emotional they were. Thus, three conditions of high emotion, medium emotion and low emotion were formed.


The recommended number of participants required in order to obtain a large effect size and a power of 0.8 was 75 (25 per condition). The mean age was 42. Their age ranged from 18 to 87. 38 Males and 36 Females were used. Participants were from a range of occupations. Opportunity sampling was used to recruit participants. Each participant was assigned to one condition only.


A copy of Lipkus’ (1991) Belief in a Just World questionnaire (see appendix sections 5a and 5b) was required. In the first part of the questionnaire, participants had to rate between 0-6 how well they believed a series of statements was applicable to other people (0 being not at all, 6 being strongly applicable). Examples of such statements include “I feel that the world treats people fairly” and “I feel that a person’s efforts are noticed and rewarded”. In the second part of the questionnaire, participants had to rate how well they believed a series of statements was applicable to themselves (using the same scoring system). Examples of such statements include “I feel that the world treats me fairly” and “I feel that I get what I am entitled to have”. In order to arrive at a final BJW score a mean was created for each participant, which took into account every question across Lipkus' (1991) BJW questionnaire. A high mean score therefore reflected a high BJW, whereas a low mean score reflected a low BJW. Three charitable appeals were used (only one was exposed to each participant), each covering one side of A4 paper; all including the same picture (see appendix sections 4a, 4b and 4c). A short paragraph was written above the picture, which used phrases such as “Please be there for children in desperate need” and “we need to open our eyes to the unbearable suffering that’s all around us”. An appeal response questionnaire was also used (see appendix section 3). This required participants to rate the likelihood (1-7, 1 being highly unlikely, 7 being highly likely) of themselves carrying out particular behaviours as a result of reading the charitable appeal. An example of a question is “To what extent would you be likely to donate to the charity”. The consent form explained that three questionnaires would have to be completed in total, and that one charitable appeal would need to be read. The right to withdraw and confidentiality of results was stated. There was a space for the participants to sign as a means of giving their consent. At the end of the study the participants were given a debrief form. This explained what the expected outcome of the research was, reiterated that confidentiality was to be maintained and finally thanked participants for taking part.


Firstly, participants were given the consent form to read through and sign. Secondly, they were given the two parts of Lipkus’ (1991) Belief in a Just World questionnaire to complete. Upon completion, participants were required to read through one charity appeal statement. After reading this, participants were required to complete the appeal response questionnaire. Finally, participants were given the debriefing statement and thanked for taking part.


The results show the amount of money (intended) to be donated upon being exposed to charitable appeals with differing levels of emotionality, between those with high BJW and low BJW. The latter groups were created by using a median split. The median BJW score was 3.44. There were 35 participants above this score (that were thus placed in the high BJW group) and 38 participants below this score (that were thus placed in the low BJW group).


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The effect of belief in a just world and charitable appeal type on donation generosity
Staffordshire University
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B.Sc (hons) Rogan McCartan (Autor:in), 2012, The effect of belief in a just world and charitable appeal type on donation generosity, München, GRIN Verlag,


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