Deaths prompt more donations

Amount of donation after disasters tend to be keyed to deaths, not survivors

September 24, 2013

People may pay more attention to the number of people killed in a natural disaster than to the number of survivors when deciding how much money to donate to disaster relief efforts, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The donation bias can be reversed, however, with a simple change in terminology

“While fatalities have a severe impact on the afflicted community or country, disaster aid should be allocated to people affected by the disaster- those who are injured, homeless, or hungry,” says lead researcher Ioannis Evangelidis of Rotterdam School of management, Erasmus University (RSM) in the Nether lands. “Our research shows that donors tend not to consider who really receives the aid.”

Lead researcher Evangelidis and Bram Van den Bergh of RSM examined humanitarian relief data for natural disaster occurring from 2000-10. As they expected, they found that the number of fatalities predicted the probability of donation, as well as the amount donated, by private donors in various disasters.

Money was shown to be given disproportionately toward the natural disasters with the most deaths, instead of the ones with the most people in desperate need of help.

The easiest, and most realistic, way to reduce the donation bias may involve a simple change in terminology. When the researchers swapped the term “affected” with the much less ambiguous term “homeless,” participants believed that money should be allocated according to the number of homeless people following a disaster.

“Above all, attention should be diverted from the number of fatalities to the number of survivors in need, “ Evangelidis and Van den Bergh conclude. “We are optimistic that these insights will enhance aid to victims of future disasters.”

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