Researchers at Kansas State University have found that racial bias affects people’s perceptions of those in need. Researchers Donald Saucier, associate professor of psychology, and psychology graduate students Sara Smith, Topeka, and Jessica McManus, Maineville, Ohio, surveyed undergraduate students a year after Hurricane Katrina to examine their perceptions of the hurricane victims and the helping response. Here’s a brief recap of the study from Science Daily:
The researchers created a questionnaire that evaluated the participants’ perceptions of Hurricane Katrina victims. The questionnaire evaluated whom the participants perceived to be the victims based on measures like gender, race and socioeconomic status. The results showed that participants generally thought people impacted by Hurricane Katrina were black and lower class.
“What we wanted to do was see how perceptions of victims of Hurricane Katrina would interact with things like racism,” Saucier said. “We wanted to look at how much the participants felt that the victims may have been to blame for their own situation in Katrina.”
The researchers measured differences in the participants, including their levels of conservatism, empathy and racism. The findings showed that when recalling victims of Hurricane Katrina, participants who were less racist thought the victims did not receive adequate help from the government. Participants who were more racist thought the victims received adequate government assistance and were at fault for their situation. The survey also asked questions that measured whether the participants thought the victims had enough time to evacuate and whether they had enough resources to get out before the hurricane hit.
“We asked the participants to make personality attributions about individuals, such as whether they thought the victims were lazy, stupid, sinful or unlucky,” Saucier said. “If they said they were lazy, stupid or sinful, they were putting more blame on the victims for the situation. If they said they were unlucky, they took away the blame.”
The results of the study showed that when recalling victims of Hurricane Katrina, participants who were less racist thought the victims did not receive adequate help from the government. Participants who were more racist thought the victims received adequate government assistance and were at fault for their situation.
Their findings are not surprising but disturbing nonetheless given the continued harrowing news out of Haiti. Recent news from Democracy Now confirms what I anticipated last week, namely that racism is hindering relief efforts in Port-au-Prince.