Spirit of giving: Desire to support disaster relief driven by multiple factors

(PhysOrg.com) -- The scenario has been repeated countless times. A domestic or international disaster afflicts a significant amount of people. As images of the damage reach a broader audience, charitable giving increases. Many people donate money or time to help those affected regain their lives.

While charitable giving is far from universal, the initial response to a tragedy is generally the same, according to a Kansas State University expert.

"When individuals see others in , they experience arousal," said Donald Saucier, associate professor of psychology. "The arousal is uncomfortable and they seek to reduce it."

What happens next depends on the individual, Saucier said. Arousal, an increased awareness of a specific situation, causes some to avoid it by ignoring the situation or thinking of it as less of an emergency. But some people attempt to alleviate their anxiety by trying to help. This support can come in one or more ways, including monetary support, time and effort.

Different theorists argue that individuals engage in a cost-benefit analysis of what is most helpful and least expensive when deciding how to respond to the emergency situation, Saucier said. The final decision is based on how individuals value different types of help.

The scope of the disaster is also influential, he said. The more dire the situation, the more likely it will increase anxiety -- which increases to reduce the anxiety. Another factor is geographic proximity.

"When the disaster is closer to them -- like in the United States versus earthquakes in Japan -- it would be expected that helping efforts would increase," Saucier said. "The extent to which the potential helpers can empathize with the targets would also be a factor."

It's challenging to identify when such is learned, but evidence suggests it is reinforcing, Saucier said.

"It may reduce the helper's own anxiety, it may make the helper feel good, and it is hoped it will improve the target's situation," he said. "That means that once it is enacted, it is more likely to continue in the future."

In the end, that support could have a long-term impact on personal behavior. "Doing so may be enough to increase the future likelihood of helping," Saucier said.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Finding psychological insights through social media

Feb 28, 2015

Social media has opened up a new digital world for psychology research. Four researchers will be discussing new methods of language analysis, and how social media can be leveraged to study personality, mental and physical ...

Aggressive boys tend to develop into physically stronger teens

Feb 27, 2015

Boys who show aggressive tendencies develop greater physical strength as teenagers than boys who are not aggressive, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Scienc ...

New app helps monitor depression

Feb 27, 2015

Scientists from the University of Birmingham have developed an app that can measure the activity patterns of patients with depression and provide the necessary support.

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.