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Exemplars and the Application of the Desert Heuristic When Responding to Fundraising Attempts
Unformatted Document Text:  4 In the case of fundraising, the perception of a social category’s responsibility might be important. Exemplars influence this perception as well. Strange and Leung (1999) presented participants with an anecdotal account of a boy planning to drop out of school. In one version, the causes for his dropping out were largely situational. The school lacked equipment as well as qualified personnel. In the other version, dropping out was presented as the result of the boy having personal problems. These different versions led to different general perceptions of why students quit school. That is, after reading the version stressing situational causes, participants named situational causes for students dropping out of school more frequently, whereas after reading the version stressing personal causes, they named more personal causes for the drop-out problem. Lyengar (1991) reports similar effects on the attribution of blame to homeless people. The results described above suggest that exemplars are capable of influencing the attribution perception. Given the importance of the attribution perception for the application of the desert heuristic, we conducted a series of experiments to assess the relevance of the desert heuristic in a fundraising context. More specifically, we tested two hypotheses, the first being: 1. The stereotypical responsibility perception of a group of patients is influenced by the perceived responsibility of the exemplars used in the fundraising letter. If patients are held responsible for the trouble they are in, participants would be less inclined to donate money. This leads to the second hypothesis: 2. The persuasiveness of the fundraising letter is influenced by perceived responsibility of the exemplars used in the fundraising letter. Finally, the question of whether the application of the desert heuristic depends on certain conditions is examined. Four experiments were conducted. In each experiment, participants received a fundraising letter and were asked to evaluate this letter. Each fundraising letter contained an exemplar, that is, a case report of a person suffering from a disease the letter wanted to raise money for. The cause of this person’s suffering from the disease was manipulated. In one condition he or she could be held responsible for getting into trouble; in the other condition he or she could not be blamed. Experiment 1 In this experiment, the hypotheses were tested that exemplars were capable of influencing the responsibility perception, as well as the persuasiveness of the fundraising letter. The letter was designed to raise money for the Dutch Aids Fund. Method Pre-test The aim of the pre-test was to assess whether the different ways in which someone could contract Aids had implications for the perception of responsibility. A total of 18 participants took part in the pre-test (8 females, 10 males, ages varying from 20 to 23 years). The participants received descriptions of 14 ways in which one could get Aids. For each description, they had to indicate the extent to which the patient could be held responsible for getting Aids on a seven-point scale ranging from “fully to blame” to “fully blameless”. There were two versions of the list that only differed with respect to the order of the items.

Authors: Hoeken, Hans. and Hustinx, Lettica.
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4
In the case of fundraising, the perception of a social category’s responsibility might be
important. Exemplars influence this perception as well. Strange and Leung (1999) presented
participants with an anecdotal account of a boy planning to drop out of school. In one
version, the causes for his dropping out were largely situational. The school lacked
equipment as well as qualified personnel. In the other version, dropping out was presented
as the result of the boy having personal problems. These different versions led to different
general perceptions of why students quit school. That is, after reading the version stressing
situational causes, participants named situational causes for students dropping out of school
more frequently, whereas after reading the version stressing personal causes, they named
more personal causes for the drop-out problem. Lyengar (1991) reports similar effects on the
attribution of blame to homeless people.
The results described above suggest that exemplars are capable of influencing the
attribution perception. Given the importance of the attribution perception for the application of
the desert heuristic, we conducted a series of experiments to assess the relevance of the
desert heuristic in a fundraising context. More specifically, we tested two hypotheses, the first
being:
1.
The stereotypical responsibility perception of a group of patients is influenced by the
perceived responsibility of the exemplars used in the fundraising letter.
If patients are held responsible for the trouble they are in, participants would be less
inclined to donate money. This leads to the second hypothesis:
2.
The persuasiveness of the fundraising letter is influenced by perceived responsibility of
the exemplars used in the fundraising letter.
Finally, the question of whether the application of the desert heuristic depends on certain
conditions is examined.
Four experiments were conducted. In each experiment, participants received a fundraising
letter and were asked to evaluate this letter. Each fundraising letter contained an exemplar,
that is, a case report of a person suffering from a disease the letter wanted to raise money
for. The cause of this person’s suffering from the disease was manipulated. In one condition
he or she could be held responsible for getting into trouble; in the other condition he or she
could not be blamed.
Experiment 1

In this experiment, the hypotheses were tested that exemplars were capable of influencing
the responsibility perception, as well as the persuasiveness of the fundraising letter. The
letter was designed to raise money for the Dutch Aids Fund.

Method

Pre-test

The aim of the pre-test was to assess whether the different ways in which someone could
contract Aids had implications for the perception of responsibility. A total of 18 participants
took part in the pre-test (8 females, 10 males, ages varying from 20 to 23 years). The
participants received descriptions of 14 ways in which one could get Aids. For each
description, they had to indicate the extent to which the patient could be held responsible for
getting Aids on a seven-point scale ranging from “fully to blame” to “fully blameless”. There
were two versions of the list that only differed with respect to the order of the items.


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