Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

People's racial biases can skew perceptions of how much help victims need

Date:
January 13, 2010
Source:
Kansas State University
Summary:
Researchers surveyed undergraduate students a year after Hurricane Katrina to examine their perceptions of the hurricane victims and the helping response. The findings showed that when recalling victims of Hurricane Katrina, participants who were less racist thought the victims did not receive adequate help from the government. Participants who were more racist thought the victims received adequate government assistance and were at fault for their situation.

When assessing the amount of help someone needs, people's perceptions can be skewed by their racial biases, according to a Kansas State University study.

Related Articles


Donald Saucier, K-State associate professor of psychology, and psychology graduate students Sara Smith, Topeka, and Jessica McManus, Maineville, Ohio, surveyed undergraduate students a year after Hurricane Katrina to examine their perceptions of the hurricane victims and the helping response.

The researchers created a questionnaire that evaluated the participants' perceptions of Hurricane Katrina victims. The questionnaire evaluated whom the participants perceived to be the victims based on measures like gender, race and socioeconomic status. The results showed that participants generally thought people impacted by Hurricane Katrina were black and lower class.

"What we wanted to do was see how perceptions of victims of Hurricane Katrina would interact with things like racism," Saucier said. "We wanted to look at how much the participants felt that the victims may have been to blame for their own situation in Katrina."

The researchers measured differences in the participants, including their levels of conservatism, empathy and racism. The findings showed that when recalling victims of Hurricane Katrina, participants who were less racist thought the victims did not receive adequate help from the government. Participants who were more racist thought the victims received adequate government assistance and were at fault for their situation. The survey also asked questions that measured whether the participants thought the victims had enough time to evacuate and whether they had enough resources to get out before the hurricane hit.

"We asked the participants to make personality attributions about individuals, such as whether they thought the victims were lazy, stupid, sinful or unlucky," Saucier said. "If they said they were lazy, stupid or sinful, they were putting more blame on the victims for the situation. If they said they were unlucky, they took away the blame."

The results suggest that perceptions of the victims and the Hurricane Katrina situation depended on the participants' individual differences, including their levels of racism. Negative perceptions and placing blame on the victims were generally associated with the participants' perceptions that the situation was less of an emergency and that the victims needed less help.

Saucier said although the findings can't fix what happened to the victims, the study helps show how people interpret the situation. He said when something negative happens, people often evaluate the situation and see whether they can fix it, and sometimes they avoid the situation by blaming the victim.

The researchers study the effects of group membership, and groups can be categorized in various ways, including by gender, race and socioeconomic status. Studies show there are specific factors that cause someone to help a member of their own group more than others. In helping situations, discrimination is often expressed by not giving help to those of a different group than the helper, Saucier said.

"Rather than doing something bad, the person who chooses not to help the out-group member fails to do something good," Saucier said. "I think this illustrates the complexity of how prejudice is expressed in contemporary society despite the social norms that usually serve to suppress the expression of prejudice."

Saucier said discrimination is often expressed only when other factors are present that would justify the action and rationalize it as something other than an expression of prejudice. Factors that contribute to the justification of not helping someone include the time it would take to help; the risk, effort, difficulty and financial cost involved; the distance between the potential helper and the person needing help; the level of emergency and the ambiguity of the helping situation.

The researchers said the Hurricane Katrina situation had several elements that studies show trigger acts of discrimination, such as a high cost of help, a high level of emergency and a large amount of time and effort required to help. The researchers are exploring other helping situations and how other group memberships affect the helping response.

"We want to examine how the perception of someone that you're going to be helping is going to affect your perception of how much help they need and how much help you'll want to give," Saucier said.

Though it's unlikely that researchers can fix the beliefs and attitudes that lead to discrimination, studies are being done to try to change the behavior that is expressed when related to discrimination, Saucier said.

The researchers' findings on Hurricane Katrina victims are included in a chapter about discrimination against out-group members in helping situations in "The Psychology of Prosocial Behavior: Group processes, intergroup relations and helping," published in September 2009.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Kansas State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Kansas State University. "People's racial biases can skew perceptions of how much help victims need." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 January 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100112121948.htm>.
Kansas State University. (2010, January 13). People's racial biases can skew perceptions of how much help victims need. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100112121948.htm
Kansas State University. "People's racial biases can skew perceptions of how much help victims need." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100112121948.htm (accessed November 24, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Health & Medicine News

Monday, November 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Winter Can Cause Depression — Here's How To Combat It

Winter Can Cause Depression — Here's How To Combat It

Newsy (Nov. 23, 2014) Millions of American suffer from seasonal depression every year. It can lead to adverse health effects, but there are ways to ease symptoms. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola-Hit Sierra Leone's Late Cocoa Leaves Bitter Taste

Ebola-Hit Sierra Leone's Late Cocoa Leaves Bitter Taste

AFP (Nov. 23, 2014) The arable district of Kenema in Sierra Leone -- at the centre of the Ebola outbreak in May -- has been under quarantine for three months as the cocoa harvest comes in. Duration: 01:32 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Don't Fall For Flu Shot Myths

Don't Fall For Flu Shot Myths

Newsy (Nov. 23, 2014) Misconceptions abound when it comes to your annual flu shot. Medical experts say most people older than 6 months should get the shot. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
WFP: Ebola Risks Heightened Among Women Throughout Africa

WFP: Ebola Risks Heightened Among Women Throughout Africa

AFP (Nov. 21, 2014) Having children has always been a frightening prospect in Sierra Leone, the world's most dangerous place to give birth, but Ebola has presented an alarming new threat for expectant mothers. Duration: 00:37 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins