Life or Death Decisions: Framing the Call for Help

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Abstract

Background: Chronic blood shortages in the U.S. would be alleviated by small increases, in percentage terms, of people donating blood. The current research investigated the effects of subtle changes in charity-seeking messages on the likelihood of people responses to a call for help. We predicted that "avoid losses" messages would lead to more helping behavior than "promote gains" messages would. Method: Two studies investigated the effects of message framing on helping intentions and behaviors. With the help and collaboration of the Red Cross, Study 1, a field experiment, directly assessed the effectiveness of a call for blood donations that was presented as either death-preventing (losses) or life-saving (gains), and as being of either more or less urgent need. With the help and collaboration of a local charity, Study 2, a lab experiment, assessed the effects of the gain-versus-loss framing of a donation-soliciting flyer on individuals' expectations of others' monetary donations as well their own volunteering behavior. Study 2 also assessed the effects of three emotional motivators - feelings of empathy, positive affect, and relational closeness. Result: Study 1 indicated that, on a college campus, describing blood donations as a way to "prevent a death" rather than "save a life" boosted the donation rate. Study 2 showed that framing a charity's appeals as helping people to avoid a loss led to larger expected donations, increased intentions to volunteer, and more helping behavior, independent of other emotional motivators. Conclusion: This research identifies and demonstrates a reliable and effective method for increasing important helping behaviors by providing charities with concrete ideas that can effectively increase helping behavior generally and potentially death-preventing behavior in particular. © 2013 Chou, Murnighan.

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Chou, E. Y., & Murnighan, J. K. (2013). Life or Death Decisions: Framing the Call for Help. PLoS ONE, 8(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0057351

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