Research finds people are more willing to donate to victims of natural disasters

They are less sympathetic to victims of disasters caused by humans, says London University study

Natural disasters inspire more donations
Natural disasters inspire more donations

People are more willing to donate to appeals for victims of natural disasters than to those for victims of disasters caused by humans, according to new research by academics at Royal Holloway, University of London.

The university carried out a range of experiments with groups of between 77 and 219 participants for its study, Donating to Disaster Victims: responses to natural and humanly caused events, published last month.

The experiments consisted of presenting participants with a range of different disasters. Some were caused by human actions, such as civil war; others were outside human control, such as a tsunami.

In all the scenarios, people were more willing to donate to appeals for victims of the natural disasters. Researchers concluded this was because victims of human-made disasters were more likely to be blamed for their own misfortune. 

Hanna Zagefka, one of the report’s authors, said charities should be aware of these psychological influences on people’s giving when launching appeals.

"Charity appeals for disasters caused by humans could explicitly stress that even though an armed conflict is going on, the victims are impartial civilians who did not trigger the fighting," she said.

She said many appeals tried to highlight the neediness of victims by portraying them as passive, but the research showed this approach could be counterproductive.

It found that willingness to donate was higher if it was perceived that the victims were trying to help themselves, she said, so appeals might do well to stress that victims were making an effort to help themselves.

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