New York: Drawing lessons from the US response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak, a new study says that a “solidarist” or “communitarian” worldview that sees individuals as needing to depend on each other helps bolster altruism in people in face of risk.
The researchers found that those with individualistic (“fend for yourself”) and hierarchical (“resources should be distributed based on geo-political boundaries”) worldview are less likely to respond altruistically in the face of such risk.
In either case, when communicating about a humanitarian crisis, “it is crucial to aim at reducing the perceived social distance between the victims and those who can offer help,” said study author Janet Yang from the University at Buffalo in New York.
When the Ebola epidemic broke out in 2014, many people responded with fear and loathing, calling for travelers from West Africa, including health workers returning from Ebola-affected areas, to be quarantined. Responses to the Syrian refugee crisis bear some of the same hallmarks as the response to the Ebola epidemic.
The new study throws important light on how altruistic behavioural intentions related to the Ebola outbreak were deeply rooted in cultural values and worldviews and emotions, yet also were influenced by the ways in which people dealt with factual risk information related to the outbreak.
To understand US responses to the epidemic, described by the World Health Organization as the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak in history, Yang conducted an experimental survey involving a nationally representative sample of 1,046 US adults, from 18 to 91 years old.
In each condition of the experiment, participants were exposed to a mock-up of New York Times stories, titled “Ebola cases could reach 1.4 million in four months, C.D.C. estimates,” designed to manipulate their perception of risk.
The high-risk version highlighted the fact that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had confirmed two diagnosed cases of Ebola in the US, whereas the low-risk version omitted this fact.
The studies revealed that factors such as a more individualistic and hierarchical worldview as well as anger about the Ebola outbreak led to less altruistic behavioural intentions among study participants.
Those with a more “solidarist” or “communitarian” view and who felt sad about the epidemic were more likely to express altruistic intentions.
The findings appeared in the journal Risk Analysis.