Tag Archives: helping

Strategic advantages to helping international out-groups

U.S. aid workers load supplies for relief efforts in Japan

By Kevin R. Betts

The United States has played a supportive role in at least two major world events recently. In response to a natural disaster in Japan, U.S. officials sent monetary and human resources to aid in recovery efforts. In response to government-backed violence in Libya, U.S. officials helped initiate a no-fly zone to protect civilians. One thing that is interesting about these prosocial acts is that they both involve the U.S. helping an out-group. Taking away from limited  resources that might be devoted to local problems, the U.S. has voluntarily sought to help members of the international community. Why might the U.S. see value in helping these international out-groups at the expense of problems at home? Are the intentions of the U.S. government purely humanitarian, or might officials see a more strategic advantage to helping these international out-groups?

Research by van Leeuwen and Täuber (2008) suggests that helping an out-group also garnishes some benefits for the in-group. For one, the act of helping in and of itself is associated with power differentials which may reduce the recipient’s degree of autonomy. When the U.S. offered assistance to disaster-ravaged Japan and war-torn Libya, they placed these countries in a position of dependency on the U.S. Even if assistance is welcomed, it carries with it the implied notion that the U.S. is qualified and able to provide help where these countries cannot help themselves. Helping out-groups also renders the in-group a sense of meaningfulness and purpose to the degree that being able to help implies that the in-group is valued and needed. Providing assistance to Japan and Libya confirms the beliefs of many American citizens that their country holds a valuable position in the world such that other countries rely on their help. Third, out-group helping promotes a favorable image of the in-group in the eyes of beneficiary out-groups and other outside observers. Providing help to Japan and Libya alerts the international community that the U.S. promotes humanitarian values and goals.

Whether or not U.S. officials recognize all of these advantages to helping international out-groups is unclear. Nonetheless, the recent prosocial actions of the U.S. can be expected to sway the power differential in the favor of the U.S., promote a sense of meaningfulness and purpose among American citizens, and enhance the image of the U.S. abroad.

Read more:

Tsunami aid and relief: How you can help

Gunfire, explosions heard in Tripoli

van Leeuwen, E., & Täuber, S. (2008). The strategic side of out-group helping. In S. Stürmer, & M. Snyder (Eds.), The psychology of prosocial behavior (pp. 81-99). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts

Contemplating Climate Change: What Motivates Individuals to Act?

This weekend marks the end of the first week of climate change discussions in Copenhagen, Denmark. Leaders from around the world have congregated to discuss their goals for lowering emissions and to pledge financial assistance for developing countries to adapt to the consequences of climate change. While national leaders are negotiating their commitments, what changes are possible at an individual level?

In a recent study, Frantz and Mayer apply a popular model of helping to the issue of climate change and hypothesize as to what motivates individuals to take action (or not). Their model outlines where change can be encouraged and where barriers to change often exist at the individual and organizational level. For example, their findings suggest that the sheer magnitude of the climate change problem — and the fact that the personal resources of individuals pale in comparison — is one of the factors that leads individuals to “engage in defensive attribution” and thus deflect responsibility. They go on to suggest ways of engaging individuals with nature as well as helping them see ways they can participate in collective actions that increase their overall sense of efficacy.

In short, climate change is a complex issue to address — one that will require the efforts of nations, organizations and individuals. Social psychology has much to offer activists and organizers who need to consider the ways in which individuals rationalize action and/or inaction.

Frantz and Mayer, 2009, The Emergency of Climate Change: Why Are We Failing to Take Action?

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