Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Global Poverty, Aid Advertisements, and Cognition: Do Media Images of the Developing World Lead to Positive or Negative Responses in Viewers

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Global Poverty, Aid Advertisements, and Cognition: Do Media Images of the Developing World Lead to Positive or Negative Responses in Viewers

Article excerpt

Images of people in the developing (or majority) world often feature in aid advertisements that aim to raise funds to alleviate global poverty. In particular, African people living in poverty have been, and in some cases still are, portrayed as helpless and destitute. This framing no doubt contributes to the construction of stereotypes of the developing world poor as uneducated, incapable of freeing themselves from poverty, lacking in competence, and miserable (Clark, 2004; Glasgow University Media Group, 2000; Opoku-Owusu, 2003; van der Gaag & Nash, 1985). Although most modern aid organisations make an effort to portray the people in their advertising as self-reliant and active the fact that the focus of such advertising is usually on need means that the images that result often incorporate an array of negative traits (Dogra, 2007).

Thus, many have argued that the ongoing legacy of earlier 'starving children' imagery combined with the focus on need in current advertising encourages the construction of partly negative stereotypes of the majority world poor in the minds of many people in the minority (or Western) world. Surprisingly, however, little mainstream psychological research has examined the attitudes of Westerners to people living in poverty in their own nations let alone the impoverished of the developing world (Cozzarelli, Wilkinson, & Tagler, 2001).

Less still is known about the content of Westerners' stereotypes of the majority world poor but several avenues of research suggest that they contain significant negative elements despite the fact that many in the 'developed West' are aware that media representations of people in the developing world are inaccurate or incomplete. For instance, a 2001 poll of 1,018 members of the general public in the United Kingdom (Voluntary Service Overseas, 2002) found that 81% of the sample endorsed the statement "It is human nature to stereotype people from other cultures, but it is also dangerous" and 55% wanted a more complete picture of the everyday lives, yet 40% agreed with the statement "Third world countries often bring poverty, famine and crises on themselves" and 74% agreed that "Developing countries depend on the money and knowledge of the West to progress." The main causes of poverty chosen by respondents were internal factors: war/conflict (69%), bad government (66%), and corruption (44%). Nine percent believed that lack of motivation/laziness was responsible for poverty in developing nations. (By contrast the external factors of debt and exploitation by the West were endorsed by 36% and 20% respectively).

The authors of the VSO report note that "80% of the British public strongly associate the developing world with doom-laden images of famine, disaster and Western aid. Sixteen years on from Live Aid, these images are still top of the mind and maintain a powerful grip on the British psyche" and that "[s]tereotypes of deprivation and poverty, together with images of Western aid, can lead to an impression that people in the developing world are helpless victims." (p. 3).

A series of studies by Carr and colleagues has also shown that citizens of the minority world (Australians and New Zealanders) are more likely than South East Africans (Malawians) to believe that internal, dispositional factors, such as laziness and low intelligence, contribute to developing world poverty --although it should be pointed out that 'blaming the poor for poverty' was often rated as less significant than external factors (such as conflict, the workings of third world governments, and international exploitation) by Westerners as well as Africans (Bolitho, Carr, & Fletcher, 2007; Campbell, Carr, & MacLachlan, 2001; McWha & Carr, 2009). It seems not unreasonable to suggest that this research implies that the general stereotype held in the minority world is less positive about the competence of the impoverished of the majority world than those stereotypes held by the people of developing economies themselves. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.