Amidst rising economic inequality and mounting evidence of its pernicious social effects, what motivates opposition to inequality? Five studies (n = 34,442) show that attributing poverty to situational forces is associated with greater concern about inequality, preference for egalitarian policies and inequality-reducing behaviour. In Study 1, situational attributions for poverty were associated with reduced support for inequality across 34 countries. Study 2 replicated these findings with a nationally representative sample of Americans. Three experiments then tested whether situational attributions for poverty are malleable and motivate egalitarianism. Bolstering situational attributions for poverty through a writing exercise (Study 3) and a computer-based poverty simulation (Studies 4a and b) increased egalitarian action and reduced support for inequality immediately (Studies 3 and 4b), 1 d later and 155 d post-intervention (Study 4b). Causal attributions for poverty offer one accessible means of shaping inequality-reducing attitudes and actions. Situational attributions may be a potent psychological lever for lessening societal inequality.
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Not all poor are equal: the perpetuation of poverty through blaming those who have been poor all their lives
Current Psychology Open Access 05 October 2022
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Funding for Study 2 was provided by a Canada 150 research grant to A.S. Funding for Study 3 was provided by a Department of Psychological Science research grant to P.K.P. Funding for Studies 4a and b was provided by a Psychology Department Research grant to L.B.A. None of these funders had a role in the conceptualization, design, data collection, analysis, decision to publish or preparation of any part of this manuscript.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Primary handling editor: Aisha Bradshaw.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Mediation model with the Nickols and Nielsen45 measure of situational attributions for poverty in Study 4a (n = 611). Situational attributions for poverty mediated the effect of the poverty simulation on support for economic inequality.
Graph illustrating the effects of the poverty simulation (SPENT game) versus no-game control condition on support for economic inequality over days between first (Time 1) and last survey (Time 3; n = 111).
Study 4b mediational models showing that the poverty simulation (SPENT) led to reduced support for economic inequality (top) and increased support for redistribution (bottom) by inducing greater situational attributions for poverty at Time 1 (n = 611).
Study 4b mediational models showing that the poverty simulation (SPENT) led to reduced support for economic inequality (top) and increased support for redistribution (bottom) by inducing greater situational attributions for poverty at Time 2 (n = 555).
Study 4b mediational models showing that the poverty simulation (SPENT) led to reduced support for economic inequality (top) and increased support for redistribution (bottom) by inducing greater situational attributions for poverty at Time 3 (n = 110).
Visual inspection of regression assumptions for linear regression in Study 1.
Visual inspection of regression assumptions for multilevel model in Study 1.
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Piff, P.K., Wiwad, D., Robinson, A.R. et al. Shifting attributions for poverty motivates opposition to inequality and enhances egalitarianism. Nat Hum Behav 4, 496–505 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0835-8