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Exemplars and the Application of the Desert Heuristic When Responding to Fundraising Attempts
Unformatted Document Text:  2 Introduction The Heuristic-Systematic Model (Chaiken, 1980, 1987; Chaiken, Liberman & Eagly, 1989) delineates between two modes by which people can determine their attitude. They may base their attitude on a critical evaluation of the relevant information, a process which is called systematic processing. People may also base their attitude on the application of rules of thumb such as “experts’ statements can be trusted”. Instead of evaluating the arguments put forward by the expert, the trustworthiness of the expert is used as a cue to the validity of the message. This latter mode is called heuristic processing. Although systematic processing provides a more solid foundation for an attitude, Chen and Chaiken (1999, p. 74) claim that heuristic processing will be the more frequent mode because of its lower cognitive processing costs for the individual. Heuristics are defined as knowledge structures that are learned and stored in memory. In order to influence the persuasion process, they have to be available, accessible, and applicable. The availability precondition implies that people must have learned and stored the heuristic in memory for it to have an impact. The fact that the heuristic is stored in memory does not guarantee that it will be used when responding to a message. For that to happen, the heuristic has to be retrieved from memory (accessibility). If these preconditions are met, there is still a third precondition: the heuristic has to be relevant to the message at hand. Given the importance of heuristic processing, one would expect that since the introduction of the HSM, a complete list of heuristics had been compiled. This appears not to be the case. O’Keefe (2002, pp. 149-150) discusses three heuristics that have received extensive research attention: the credibility heuristic (statements made by credible sources can be trusted), the liking heuristic (people I like usually have correct opinions), and the consensus heuristic (if other people believe it, then it’s probably true). Two other heuristics that have received some research attention are “the more arguments, the better” and “the longer the message, the better its position must be”. However, no claim is made that this list is exhaustive. In this paper, a potential candidate for the heuristics list is studied: the desert heuristic. This heuristic may especially relevant in a fundraising context. The desert heuristic in a fundraising context A fundraising attempt asks for a decision from the audience whether to donate money or not. Since deciding whether or not to donate (a small amount of) money is not a very important issue to most people, they will be inclined to base their decision upon the application of a heuristic. A relevant heuristic in the context of fundraising attempts is the desert heuristic. Sniderman, Brody and Tetlock (1991) introduced the desert heuristic in order to explain the American voters’ evaluation of government assistance for Afro-Americans: People who believe that Afro-Americans have brought their problems upon themselves, are against the policy, whereas those who believe that these people cannot be blamed for the hardship they encounter, are in favor of the policy. Sniderman et al. (1991) base their explanation on Weiner’s (1980) attribution-emotion-action model of helping behavior. When someone is not blamed for the trouble he or she is in (attribution), pity is evoked (emotion), and people are inclined to help the one in trouble (action). When someone is held responsible for getting into trouble (attribution), this evokes anger (emotion), and people are not inclined to help this person (action). The desert heuristic is potentially relevant in a fundraising context. There are many organizations that support patients suffering from, for instance, heart diseases, cancer,

Authors: Hoeken, Hans. and Hustinx, Lettica.
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2
Introduction

The Heuristic-Systematic Model (Chaiken, 1980, 1987; Chaiken, Liberman & Eagly, 1989)
delineates between two modes by which people can determine their attitude. They may base
their attitude on a critical evaluation of the relevant information, a process which is called
systematic processing. People may also base their attitude on the application of rules of
thumb such as “experts’ statements can be trusted”. Instead of evaluating the arguments put
forward by the expert, the trustworthiness of the expert is used as a cue to the validity of the
message. This latter mode is called heuristic processing. Although systematic processing
provides a more solid foundation for an attitude, Chen and Chaiken (1999, p. 74) claim that
heuristic processing will be the more frequent mode because of its lower cognitive
processing costs for the individual.
Heuristics are defined as knowledge structures that are learned and stored in
memory. In order to influence the persuasion process, they have to be available, accessible,
and applicable. The availability precondition implies that people must have learned and
stored the heuristic in memory for it to have an impact. The fact that the heuristic is stored in
memory does not guarantee that it will be used when responding to a message. For that to
happen, the heuristic has to be retrieved from memory (accessibility). If these preconditions
are met, there is still a third precondition: the heuristic has to be relevant to the message at
hand.
Given the importance of heuristic processing, one would expect that since the
introduction of the HSM, a complete list of heuristics had been compiled. This appears not to
be the case. O’Keefe (2002, pp. 149-150) discusses three heuristics that have received
extensive research attention: the credibility heuristic (statements made by credible sources
can be trusted), the liking heuristic (people I like usually have correct opinions), and the
consensus heuristic (if other people believe it, then it’s probably true). Two other heuristics
that have received some research attention are “the more arguments, the better” and “the
longer the message, the better its position must be”. However, no claim is made that this list
is exhaustive. In this paper, a potential candidate for the heuristics list is studied: the desert
heuristic. This heuristic may especially relevant in a fundraising context.
The desert heuristic in a fundraising context

A fundraising attempt asks for a decision from the audience whether to donate money or not.
Since deciding whether or not to donate (a small amount of) money is not a very important
issue to most people, they will be inclined to base their decision upon the application of a
heuristic. A relevant heuristic in the context of fundraising attempts is the desert heuristic.
Sniderman, Brody and Tetlock (1991) introduced the desert heuristic in order to explain the
American voters’ evaluation of government assistance for Afro-Americans: People who
believe that Afro-Americans have brought their problems upon themselves, are against the
policy, whereas those who believe that these people cannot be blamed for the hardship they
encounter, are in favor of the policy. Sniderman et al. (1991) base their explanation on
Weiner’s (1980) attribution-emotion-action model of helping behavior. When someone is not
blamed for the trouble he or she is in (attribution), pity is evoked (emotion), and people are
inclined to help the one in trouble (action). When someone is held responsible for getting into
trouble (attribution), this evokes anger (emotion), and people are not inclined to help this
person (action).
The desert heuristic is potentially relevant in a fundraising context. There are many
organizations that support patients suffering from, for instance, heart diseases, cancer,


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