Socio-Psychological Reasons Of Donation To Natural Disasters Relief

In 2018, 315 natural disasters were recorded, with over 68 million people affected and approximately 12,000 deaths (Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, 2018). Comparisons show that the number of disasters has significantly increased over the past 25 years (Than, 2005). On 2nd October 2019, Typhoon Hagibis was formed, and for 18 days it caused major destruction to parts of the Mariana Islands, Japan, South Korea, Russia and Alaska (“Typhoon Hagibis,” 2019), leaving 78 dead and 9 missing (Lovett, 2019). 13,000 houses were submerged by the floods, many of which were at least partly destroyed (NHK, Japan Broadcasting Corporation). The impact of disasters such as this are substantial, leaving many behind in desperate need of help. Research has shown that 41% of people give in response to natural disasters like Typhoon Hagibis (Non-profit Tech for Good, 2018). Yet, if the number of natural disasters continues increasing, it is necessary to asses why people do or do not give to disaster funds, and aim to increase this giving in the population.

From a social psychology perspective, there are many reasons as to why people donate to natural disaster relief. One reason for this is altruism. Altruistic behaviour is that which shows concern for and assists the health of others, often at a cost to the individual (Archer, 2001; Hogg & Vaughan, 2014). Social psychologists argue that people engage in pro-social behaviour through giving if they are likely to gain something in return. This is known as reciprocal altruism. For example, if an individual donates to Typhoon Hagibis relief, they may tell others about it and in return enhance their public image, which may be viewed as a good reward for helping.

In addition to this, selective altruism suggests that people will only help others when it enhances their own genetic survival (Hogg & Vaughan, 2014). For example, if an individual is related to someone effected by Typhoon Hagibis, they may be more inclined to give as it would assist the continuation of their own genes. Yet, it is unlikely that the high percentage of people who do donate to disaster funds are always related to someone involved, thus suggesting that there must be other factors motivating giving behaviour. Still, selective altruism could explain why 59% of the world’s population do not give in response to natural disasters (Non-profit Tech for Good, 2018). If individuals are not directly related to those affected, giving would not enhance the survival of their own genetic line, and thus they may evaluate giving their own resources as less of a priority. Therefore, in order to increase giving to natural disaster relief, more of a focus on the importance of the whole populations’ survival is needed. This could be achieved, for example, through effective use of media.

Moreover, De Waal (2008) argues that empathy is imperative for altruistic and giving behaviour. Empathy is an individual’s capability to identify with and understand another’s experiences, thoughts and emotions (Hogg & Vaughan, 2014). Social psychologists argue that empathetic people tend to take the perspective of those affected by the disaster by trying to imagine how they feel and what they are going through (Oswald, 1996; Batson, 1997; Maner et al., 2002; Batson et al., 2003). This can prompt giving behaviour, as people will identify with those in need and will want to help them. For example, if an individual has been through something that has provoked similar emotions, they will empathise more with them and feel more inclined to give. Furthermore, empathetic people may donate as a way of seeking relief for the unpleasant emotions triggered by knowing of those affected (Batson, Eklund, Chermok, Hoyt, & Ortiz, 2007; Goetz, Keltner, & Simon-Thomas, 2010; Hogg & Vaughan, 2014).

However, one article found that only approximately 20% of the world’s population are genetically predisposed to empathetic concern (Acevedo et al., 2014). This could explain why 59% of people do not give in response to natural disasters (Non-profit Tech for Good, 2018), as if they are not empathetic by nature they may not understand the needs of those affected and thus not feel inclined to give. In order to overcome this and increase giving behaviour, social learning theory (Bandura, 1977) could be proved important. If adults model giving behaviour to children following natural disasters, such as Typhoon Hagibis, children are more likely to imitate this behaviour and donate themselves (Eisenberg et al., 1999; Zahn-Waxler, Radke-Yarrow, Wagner, & Chapman, 1992; Grusec, Kuczynski, Rushton, & Simutis, 1978; Rushton, 1976). Accordingly, media outlets could be used to elicit giving behaviour through social learning, by television adverts on children’s channels where children are praised for giving to charity.

An additional reason as to why people give to natural disaster relief could relate to social identification. Research has shown that people will identify with those affected if they are in closer proximity to the disaster (Beyerlein & Sikkink, 2008; Maki et al., 2018) or if they have experienced something similar (Drury et al., 2016), and this motivates giving behaviour. For example, if an individual who lives in an unaffected part of Japan has experienced a similar disaster to Typhoon Hagibis, they are likely to identify with those affected and feel compelled to help. However, this also means that if people do not identify with those affected, they will not give, which could explain why most of the population do not give to natural disaster relief. In order to overcome this, the media could portray the situation and needs of those affected in a more confronting and provoking manner. This could enable identification with those involved, thus increasing the likelihood that people will empathise with them and donate.

In conclusion, there are many social psychological reasons as to why 41% of the world’s population donate to natural disaster relief (Non-profit Tech for Good, 2018), such as that for Typhoon Hagibis. These include altruistic behaviour, empathy and social identification. Yet, these arguments can equally explain why people do not donate, and given that the number of natural disasters appears to be increasing, it is important that the giving population increases concurrently in order to sufficiently provide aid. As discussed, this could be attained in several different ways, with television and social media presenting useful opportunities to do so. For example, through increasing empathy and identification with those affected, and showing the vital importance of the whole populations’ survival. 

07 July 2022
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