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Exemplars and the Application of the Desert Heuristic When Responding to Fundraising Attempts
Unformatted Document Text:  7 The first hypothesis was that the responsibility perception of the exemplar in the letter would be generalized to the responsibility perception of Aids patients in general. To test this hypothesis, the responses to the item “People suffering from Aids usually only have themselves to blame” were analyzed. Indeed, the different case histories generally influenced the perception of the Dutch Aids patients being responsible for getting Aids (F (2, 148) = 6.33, p < .01, 2 = .08). Tukey’s HSD post hoc comparisons showed that this effect was the result of the significant difference between the “wife’s having secret affair” (M = 3.10, SD = 1.58) and the “having unsafe sex with different girlfriends” versions (M = 4.13, SD = 1.41). The “wife’s previous sex life” version took an intermediate position (M = 3.59, SD = 1.38) and did not differ from the other two versions. The second hypothesis was that the responsibility manipulation would influence the attitude toward donating money as well. This proved not to be the case (F (2, 148) = 1.59, p = .21). The high attitude scores (on average: 5.58) were remarkable in this respect. Discussion The use of different exemplars influenced the perception of the stereotypical Aids victim’s responsibility for contracting Aids. However, this had no effect on the attitude toward giving money to the Aids Fund. There are at least two explanations for the absence of an effect on the persuasiveness of the letter. First, the attitude scores were relatively high, implying that many participants had chosen extreme answers. As a result, differences between the versions of the letters may have been obscured by a ceiling effect. Second, the seriousness of the problems that Aids patients find themselves in may override responsibility concerns. Weiner et al. (1988) found that, although participants were inclined not to support a person they held responsible for the trouble he or she was in, they supported a person regardless of their responsibility perceptions, if the trouble was very severe. To see which of these explanations is correct, a second experiment was carried out. Experiment 2 This experiment again studied whether the exemplar in the fundraising letter affected the general perception of responsibility and, if so, whether it influenced the attitude toward donating money. In addition, it examined whether differences in perceived responsibility only had an impact on a letter’s persuasiveness when raising funds for people with less serious problems. With respect to the first experiment, several changes were made. 1. To prevent a ceiling effect obscuring any differences between the versions, an additional attitude measurement was included. The participants in the second experiment had to indicate whether they would give money in response to the fundraising letter (yes, no) and, if so, how much money they would donate. 2. Instead of only one fundraising organization, fundraising letters of four different organizations were used (viz. organizations supporting Aids victims, patients suffering from heart diseases, homeless alcoholics, and obese people). These topics differ in perceived severity. Apart from that, they enable us to test the generalizability of the exemplar manipulation over different message topics (as suggested by Jackson and Jacobs (1983) and O’Keefe (2002, pp. 174-176). 3. Only two versions of each fundraising letter were used, containing either a responsible or a not-responsible exemplar. Compared to the first experiment, the intermediate version was left out. This version did not provide much additional insight. The inclusion of a third

Authors: Hoeken, Hans. and Hustinx, Lettica.
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7
The first hypothesis was that the responsibility perception of the exemplar in the letter
would be generalized to the responsibility perception of Aids patients in general. To test this
hypothesis, the responses to the item “People suffering from Aids usually only have
themselves to blame” were analyzed. Indeed, the different case histories generally
influenced the perception of the Dutch Aids patients being responsible for getting Aids (F (2,
148) = 6.33, p
< .01,
2
= .08). Tukey’s HSD post hoc comparisons showed that this effect
was the result of the significant difference between the “wife’s having secret affair” (M = 3.10,
SD = 1.58) and the “having unsafe sex with different girlfriends” versions (M = 4.13, SD =
1.41). The “wife’s previous sex life” version took an intermediate position (M = 3.59, SD =
1.38) and did not differ from the other two versions. The second hypothesis was that the
responsibility manipulation would influence the attitude toward donating money as well. This
proved not to be the case (F (2, 148) = 1.59, p = .21). The high attitude scores (on average:
5.58) were remarkable in this respect.
Discussion

The use of different exemplars influenced the perception of the stereotypical Aids victim’s
responsibility for contracting Aids. However, this had no effect on the attitude toward giving
money to the Aids Fund. There are at least two explanations for the absence of an effect on
the persuasiveness of the letter. First, the attitude scores were relatively high, implying that
many participants had chosen extreme answers. As a result, differences between the
versions of the letters may have been obscured by a ceiling effect. Second, the seriousness
of the problems that Aids patients find themselves in may override responsibility concerns.
Weiner et al. (1988) found that, although participants were inclined not to support a person
they held responsible for the trouble he or she was in, they supported a person regardless of
their responsibility perceptions, if the trouble was very severe. To see which of these
explanations is correct, a second experiment was carried out.
Experiment 2

This experiment again studied whether the exemplar in the fundraising letter affected the
general perception of responsibility and, if so, whether it influenced the attitude toward
donating money. In addition, it examined whether differences in perceived responsibility only
had an impact on a letter’s persuasiveness when raising funds for people with less serious
problems. With respect to the first experiment, several changes were made.
1. To prevent a ceiling effect obscuring any differences between the versions, an additional
attitude measurement was included. The participants in the second experiment had to
indicate whether they would give money in response to the fundraising letter (yes, no)
and, if so, how much money they would donate.
2. Instead of only one fundraising organization, fundraising letters of four different
organizations were used (viz. organizations supporting Aids victims, patients suffering
from heart diseases, homeless alcoholics, and obese people). These topics differ in
perceived severity. Apart from that, they enable us to test the generalizability of the
exemplar manipulation over different message topics (as suggested by Jackson and
Jacobs (1983) and O’Keefe (2002, pp. 174-176).
3. Only two versions of each fundraising letter were used, containing either a responsible or
a not-responsible exemplar. Compared to the first experiment, the intermediate version
was left out. This version did not provide much additional insight. The inclusion of a third


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