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Exemplars and the Application of the Desert Heuristic When Responding to Fundraising Attempts
Unformatted Document Text:  20 The difference between the absence of an effect in the second experiment and the presence of the effect in the fourth experiment may lie in the type of activities the organization employed. In the second experiment, a donation was solicited for the Hartstichting, which is known for its funding of research for the prevention or cure of heart diseases. In the fourth experiment, as an example of the work of the (fictitious) organization, the letter stated that it had provided the person in the exemplar a means of transportation to enable him to leave the house now and then. Participants considered these types of activities less valuable than the type of activities employed by the Hartstichting (as was evidenced by their opinion on whether the organization did much good work). 5 General discussion This paper tested two hypotheses. The first hypothesis was that the stereotypical responsibility perception of a group of patients is influenced by the perceived responsibility of the exemplars used in a fundraising letter. The hypothesis was tested in four different experiments employing six different fundraising letters for eight different fundraising organizations, and in two different countries. In each and every case, manipulation of the responsibility of the exemplar led to a corresponding difference in the general responsibility perception. An exemplar’s capacity to influence general perceptions in journalistic settings has already been documented extensively (Zillmann & Brosius, 2000). The results of our experiments also underscore the exemplar’s capacity to influence general perceptions in a persuasive setting. The second hypothesis was that the persuasiveness of a fundraising letter would be influenced by the perceived responsibility of the exemplars used in the fundraising letter. This effect should arise as a result of applying the desert heuristic. Based on the studies by Weiner (Weiner, 1980; Weiner et al., 1988), it was expected that participants would be more inclined to donate money if they did not blame the group for being in trouble. The hypothesis was confirmed for some of topics but not for all. If participants considered the problems people were in as particularly serious and hence the work of the fundraising organization as particularly desirable, they were inclined to donate money regardless of their perception of who was responsible for the trouble people were in. However, if participants considered these problems as less serious and hence the work of the organization as less desirable, they applied the desert heuristic when deciding whether and how much money to donate. We only measured the behavioral intention to donate money. A positive intention does not guarantee that people will actually display the predicted behavior. Especially when confronted with people who suffer, the actual behavior may differ from the behavior expressed at an interview or questionnaire. Lerner and Goldberg (1999, p. 638) review evidence that, although “if asked, we may honestly state that we will only reject or avoid victims who deserve their suffering, and that we will react with compassion if the evidence indicates that someone is a truly innocent victim”, whereas in actuality “we may blame innocent victims, or avoid them as a way to maintaining our confidence that, by and large, we live in a world where people get what they deserve.” If Lerner and Goldberg are correct, this implies that, although people indicate that they would donate money to innocent people suffering from obesity or asthma, they would actually act differently. In order to test this assumption, an experiment has to be conducted in which the participants’ donation behavior is observed. Even if we did not observe the actual behavior of our participants, the results are still germane to the question as to whether the desert heuristic is a useful addition to the list of heuristics relevant to the Heuristic-Systematic Model (Chaiken, 1980, 1987). The answer is

Authors: Hoeken, Hans. and Hustinx, Lettica.
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20
The difference between the absence of an effect in the second experiment and the
presence of the effect in the fourth experiment may lie in the type of activities the
organization employed. In the second experiment, a donation was solicited for the
Hartstichting, which is known for its funding of research for the prevention or cure of heart
diseases. In the fourth experiment, as an example of the work of the (fictitious) organization,
the letter stated that it had provided the person in the exemplar a means of transportation to
enable him to leave the house now and then. Participants considered these types of activities
less valuable than the type of activities employed by the Hartstichting (as was evidenced by
their opinion on whether the organization did much good work).
5
General discussion

This paper tested two hypotheses. The first hypothesis was that the stereotypical
responsibility perception of a group of patients is influenced by the perceived responsibility of
the exemplars used in a fundraising letter. The hypothesis was tested in four different
experiments employing six different fundraising letters for eight different fundraising
organizations, and in two different countries. In each and every case, manipulation of the
responsibility of the exemplar led to a corresponding difference in the general responsibility
perception. An exemplar’s capacity to influence general perceptions in journalistic settings
has already been documented extensively (Zillmann & Brosius, 2000). The results of our
experiments also underscore the exemplar’s capacity to influence general perceptions in a
persuasive setting.
The second hypothesis was that the persuasiveness of a fundraising letter would be
influenced by the perceived responsibility of the exemplars used in the fundraising letter. This
effect should arise as a result of applying the desert heuristic. Based on the studies by
Weiner (Weiner, 1980; Weiner et al., 1988), it was expected that participants would be more
inclined to donate money if they did not blame the group for being in trouble. The hypothesis
was confirmed for some of topics but not for all. If participants considered the problems
people were in as particularly serious and hence the work of the fundraising organization as
particularly desirable, they were inclined to donate money regardless of their perception of
who was responsible for the trouble people were in. However, if participants considered
these problems as less serious and hence the work of the organization as less desirable,
they applied the desert heuristic when deciding whether and how much money to donate.
We only measured the behavioral intention to donate money. A positive intention does
not guarantee that people will actually display the predicted behavior. Especially when
confronted with people who suffer, the actual behavior may differ from the behavior
expressed at an interview or questionnaire. Lerner and Goldberg (1999, p. 638) review
evidence that, although “if asked, we may honestly state that we will only reject or avoid
victims who deserve their suffering, and that we will react with compassion if the evidence
indicates that someone is a truly innocent victim”, whereas in actuality “we may blame
innocent victims, or avoid them as a way to maintaining our confidence that, by and large, we
live in a world where people get what they deserve.” If Lerner and Goldberg are correct, this
implies that, although people indicate that they would donate money to innocent people
suffering from obesity or asthma, they would actually act differently. In order to test this
assumption, an experiment has to be conducted in which the participants’ donation behavior
is observed.
Even if we did not observe the actual behavior of our participants, the results are still
germane to the question as to whether the desert heuristic is a useful addition to the list of
heuristics relevant to the Heuristic-Systematic Model (Chaiken, 1980, 1987). The answer is


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