Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Affluence Cues and Perceptions of Helping

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Affluence Cues and Perceptions of Helping

Article excerpt

To explore observers' impressions of the relationship between a target person's affluence level and that target person's likelihood of engaging in each of McGuire's (1994) four types of helping behaviors, 84 American college students read a scenario and rated the likelihood that the target person would engage in each of 20 helping behaviors. A repeated-measures analysis of variance revealed that a less affluent target person was perceived as more likely to engage in each of McGuire's four types of helping behavior, particularly for casual helping behavior. Results are discussed with respect to research on impressions of the affluent and less affluent, and future research directions are provided.

Until only recently, little was known about the impressions people form of individuals in different socioeconomic classes. A burgeoning literature (e.g., Christopher & Jones, 2004; Dittmar, 1992; Dittmar & Pepper, 1994; Johannesen-Schmidt & Eagly, 2002) is articulating the traits that observers ascribe to a target person based on the target person's material circumstances. Less clear, however, are the perceptions of behaviors performed by persons of different levels of affluence. The purpose of the current research is to learn how an observer's perception of helping behavior is influenced by the helper's affluence level.

Affluence Cues and Person Perception

Several experiments have investigated the impressions formed about individuals in relatively affluent and less affluent home settings. Using videos of target individuals in affluent and less affluent settings, Dittmar (1992) found that British adolescents considered persons in more affluent settings to possess greater personal abilities, be more educated, and be more in control of their lives than persons in less affluent settings. However, such impressions were not globally positive, as the less affluent target was perceived as interpersonally warmer and friendlier. Using scenarios, Dittmar and Pepper (1994) conceptually replicated these findings with a slightly younger sample (ages 14 - 16 yrs). Furthermore, they found that the sample was more desirous of the affluent lifestyle than the less affluent lifestyle, irrespective of the participant's own socio-economic standing. Christopher and Jones (2004) found theoretically similar results to those of Dittmar and Pepper using a broad sample of American participants (see also Christopher & Schlenker, 2000). Most recently, in a study of how affluence cues influence impressions along the Big Five personality factors, Christopher, Morgan, Marek, Troisi, Jones, and Reinhart (2005) found that a less affluent person was perceived to be more agreeable (e.g., forgiving, soft-hearted) than a highly affluent person. Thus, previous research concerning the effects of material wealth on the impression formation process has consistently found that observers form more positive impressions of affluent individuals on certain dimensions (e.g., personal abilities), but more positive impressions of less affluent individuals on other dimensions (e.g., interpersonal characteristics).

Social Role Theory

Although research is beginning to discern the traits observers tend to ascribe to the affluent and less affluent, far less is known about how observers interpret the behaviors of the affluent and less affluent. Social role theory (Eagly, Wood, & Diekman, 2000) contends that stereotypes of groups, such as the relatively affluent and less affluent, may lead observers to form expectations about particular behaviors from members of those groups. According to the theory, stereotypes may in fact arise because of the various behaviors in which people engage for the completion of their particular roles. Johannesen-Schmidt and Eagly (2002), in their research on stereotypes of different wage earners, found that higher income was associated with perceptions of spending more time at work and less time caring for others. …

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