People recognize that stigmatized groups exist. Examples of such out-groups are persons with physical disabilities, mental illness, and welfare recipients. Stigmatized groups are viewed negatively, but the underlying causes are not discernible. Two areas have been examined that may aid in understanding why this phenomenon occurs. The mortality salience hypothesis states that people will be more likely to hold negative attitudes toward out-groups when an awareness of inevitable death does not support their existing beliefs (Pyszczynski, Greenberg, & Solomon, 1997). Secondly, framing has been examined and has been defined as the context in which information is portrayed (Iyenger, 1990; Nelson & Oxley, 1999). Does the medium used to convey information have a greater effect on people's attitudes toward out-groups or does the realization that life will one day end in death create a greater impact on our attitudes?
Becker (1973) pointed out that people realize at a relatively young age that death is inevitable. It is embedded into young minds that we will eventually die. Instead of observing this fact, people ignore it by possessing certain beliefs, such as organized religion, in order to protect themselves from the threat death educes. This point can be further argued to claim that all human behavior is designed to protect us from dying.
Our attitudes toward people depend on the groups to which they belong (Pyszczynski, Greenberg, & Solomon, 1997). The awareness of death manifests itself as anxiety, which is maintained by a belief system or the worldview, and consequently guides societal living. The problem arises when people do not conform to our worldviews.
Beliefs toward out-groups are ultimately affected by an awareness of death because they are either supported or not supported by different groups' worldviews (Greenberg et al. 1990; Greenberg et al. 1992; Rosenblatt et al. 1989). Specifically, researchers (Greenberg et al., 1990) have found that when people were aware of their death, they perceived people who belonged to the same religious group positively, while viewing religious out-groups negatively.
Further, when they were aware of their death, people mandated that out-groupers receive harsher sentences for being "moral transgressors" (Rosenblatt et al., 1989, p. 682, Study 1), which are differences between people's beliefs. In a second study, Rosenblatt et al. (1989) went on to further claim that it was because of the particular moral beliefs that people upheld that they perceived out-groups negatively. Conflicting beliefs elicit negative reactions toward dissimilar others because they do not affirm people's worldviews.
When beliefs were affirmed, out-groups were not necessarily viewed negatively, but were perceived according to people's existing beliefs (Greenberg et al., 1992, Study 1; Rosenblatt et al., 1989, Study 2). This supports the idea that there is a tendency for people to uphold their beliefs in the face of death. Additionally, if people's attitudes are found to be negative, it can be inferred that those attitudes were negative initially, and merely strengthened after people were induced with an awareness of death.
Greenberg et al. (1992, Study 2) found that when people realized they were going to die, and had been given information about tolerance, their attitudes were less negative than when tolerance was not primed. This follows that attitudes toward out-groups are dependent upon the type of information that someone receives. In other words, even though only some people were unconsciously aware of the effects of priming, tolerance stimuli did not affect everyone's attitudes. It can be concluded, then, when particular is provided, attitudes change, regardless of whether people consciously register that information.
Studies (Iyenger, 1990; Nelson & Oxley, 1999) have looked at the effects of framing on attitudes, which has been defined as the context in which information is given (i.e. newspaper articles or a video). Nelson and Oxley (1999) found that focusing on a specific aspect of welfare reform policy changes people's attitudes showing that less monetary assistance was granted for adults with children than when the focus was specifically on children's welfare.
Similarly, Iyengar (1990) administered information that was essentially the same but either depicted poverty as a result of an individual's actions or social structures, such as public policy. It was found that people who read about the structural stories believed that society was to blame for a person's situation. On the other hand, those who read about individualistic causes tended to agree that the individual caused his situation.
The previously mentioned research has shown that behavior was dictated by specific beliefs shaping how people think the world works. Additionally, when people's beliefs were in opposition to others' beliefs, negative attitudes between the two groups were likely to result. Further, death awareness was shown to strengthen beliefs about how the world should work. The prior studies have also suggested that the way information is specifically worded alters attitudes. What the prior research lacks, however, has been the combination of the mortality salience hypothesis with how information is framed. The present research is necessary to provide a link between an awareness of inevitable death with how information is depicted because the implications may suggest a way for people to break down mental barriers in order to see others' situations as they truly exist.
Three hypotheses surround the present research. First, participants in the mortality salient condition will be more likely to hold negative attitudes toward welfare recipients than participants in the mortality not salient condition. Second, participants in the positive frames condition will be more likely to hold positive attitudes toward welfare recipients than participants in the negative frames condition. Third, participants in the mortality salient condition and negative frames condition will be more likely to hold negative attitudes toward welfare recipients than participants in the mortality not salient condition and positive frames condition.
Male (n= 38) and female (n= 67) introductory psychology students from a small midwestern university participated to fulfill a course requirement. Inclusion was based on participants who indicated they had no history of collecting public assistance [e.g. welfare, food stamps, Women, Infant, Children (WIC)].
A written mortality salience stimulus description (see Appendix A) about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center in New York City was used to induce an awareness of death. A clipping was taken from two New York area daily newspapers and overtly stated that Americans died at the hands of those who belonged to terrorist out-groups. Statements included factual information about the losses Americans endured, such as, "Tuesday's vast numbers of faceless victims became today's 22-year-old daughter who had been planning to start a new job in San Francisco next week" (Ryan, 2001, p. B3).
Both the individualistic (Appendix B) and structural (Appendix C) frames were equal in length and content but the emphasis on responsibility differed. For example, the individualistic frame stated, "Many people believe that welfare recipients are responsible for their current situation", implying that people are on welfare because they lack motivation. The structural frame included a revised version of this statement, reading, "Many people believe that welfare recipients are not responsible for their current situation", implying that social structures, such as the public policy, cause people to collect welfare.
A neutral stimulus was administered to participants in all four conditions in order to control for the effects of death awareness (see Appendix D). This information was taken from a popular entertainment magazine and described a woman who saved money by utilizing coupons ("In the Money", 1999). By having participants read about coupons, a presumably neutral stimulus, they would demonstrate relatively unemotional responses. Therefore, any effects found in the mortality salient conditions would be due to the description pertaining to the terrorists, rather than the neutral stimulus about coupons.
The Interpersonal Judgment Scale (Byrne, 1971) was completed to assess the degree of liking toward a welfare recipient. A 7-point Likert scale measured responses to six statements on the following items: intellect, wisdom, morals, adaptive ability, emotions, and cooperativeness. Only the later two questions were designed specifically to measure attitudes. Participants were asked to rate how strongly they felt towards the welfare recipient, from, "I feel that I would probably like this person very much", to, "I feel I would probably dislike this person very much" (Byrne, 1971, p. 427). Similarly, participants rated how willing they would be to work with a fictional stimulus person, Barb, in an experiment, from, "I believe that I would very much dislike working with this person in an experiment", to, "I believe that I would very much enjoy working with this person in an experiment" (Byrne, 1971, p. 427). Demographic questions asked about sex, age, religion, and race/ethnicity.
A Two-Way ANOVA was used on a 2 (mortality salience; neutral) x 2 (individualistic frame; structural frame) factorial design with Attitudes Toward Welfare Recipients as the dependent variable. The Mortality Salience variable was manipulated as either a death awareness stimulus or a neutral stimulus about coupons. Framing was manipulated on two levels: an individualistic story which depicted a welfare recipient that was responsible for her situation or a structural story of the same kind but with an emphasis of responsibility placed on social institutions.
Each participant read one of four packets of information. The first group read about death awareness and an individualistic story. Group 2 read the neutral stimulus about coupons and the individualistic story. Group 3 read the death awareness and structural stories, while the fourth group read the neutral and structural stories.
Participants were randomly assigned to read one of the four experimental conditions. Prior to reading the descriptions, participants were instructed to read all directions and were notified that the researcher would address any questions. Descriptions were read in a standard university classroom, a smaller room, an observation room, or in separate cubicles. After reading assigned descriptions, all participants completed the Interpersonal Judgment Scale.
Lastly, debriefings were administered and participants were told that these statements elaborated on why the research was being conducted, what was expected to be found, and included references to two articles that originated the present research and could be used to further interest in this study. The experiment lasted approximately 10-20 minutes.
Data were excluded from 30 participants who indicated that they had received public assistance. Unanswered items from the questionnaires were treated as missing values in SPSS version 10.1 and were not included in analyses.
Before descriptive and inferential analyses were performed, reverse-scoring was conducted on readiness to cooperate in a study with an out-group member from the Interpersonal Judgment Scale. Originally, the item was worded so that a score above four would equate to a more negative attitude, but reverse-scoring allowed numbers above four to translate into positive attitudes, while scores below four denoted negative attitudes.
Cronbach's alpha was calculated to see if the two items from the Interpersonal Judgment Scale that measured attitudes toward an out-group member were correlated. Because this analysis revealed that emotional liking and readiness to cooperate in a study with an out-group member were moderately correlated (r=0.63), the two items were combined into one mean overall attitude measure and used as the dependent variable in analyses. All analyses utilized an alpha level of 0.05.
Table 1 - Average scores for attitudes toward welfare recipients from the overall attitude measure after reading experimental stimuli
|Experimental Condition||M||n||sd||Possible Range|
|Mortality Salience x Individualistic Frame||3.77||22||1.25||1-7|
|Neutral Stimulus x Individualistic Frame||3.48||25||1.15||1-7|
|Mortality Salience x Structural Frame||4.71||24||1.63||1-7|
|Neutral Stimulus x Structural Frame||4.77||31||1.08||1-7|
|M||=||Average score on Interpersonal Judegement scale|
|n||=||Number of participants|
|Possible Range||=||Scores for IJS, 1 = lowest, 7 = highest.|
Preliminary descriptive analyses were conducted on the mean attitude measure for all four experimental conditions. As predicted, the neutral stimulus and structural framing condition produced slightly more positive attitudes on overall attitude (see Table 1 for average scores). Therefore, individuals who read about coupons and societal responsibility held the least negative attitudes toward dissimilar others. Contrary to my hypothesis, the mortality salience stimulus and individualistic framing group did not show the most positive attitudes. In other words, those who read about the terrorist attacks and personal responsibility were not more likely to exhibit the most negative attitudes toward out-group members. See Table 1 for average scores.
A Two-Way ANOVA was computed on a 2 (mortality salience; neutral) x 2 (individualistic frame; structural frame) between-subjects factorial with the dependent variable of Attitudes Toward Welfare Recipients. A main effect for Mortality Salience was found, F(1,98)=23.98, p < 0.05, supporting my first hypothesis that participants in the mortality salience condition will be more likely to hold negative attitudes toward welfare recipients than toward those in the neutral condition. In other words, participants who read about the events of September 11, 2001 conveyed the most negative attitudes. See Table 2 for F scores.
Table 2 : Analysis of varience for attitudes toward welfare recipients based on death awareness and presentation style of information
|M x F||000.81||1||00.81||00.62||0.43|
|error||127.48||98||01.300|| || |
Note: *p < 0.05
|SS = Sum of Squares||F = F statistic|
|df = Degrees of Freedom||p = Significant Level|
Analyses indicated that people who were consciously aware of their death were more likely to exhibit in-group favoritism. Simply reading something that elicits an awareness of death alters our attitudes in a negative manner toward out-groups. This runs consistent to past findings (Greenberg et al., 1990; Greenberg et al., 1992; Rosenblatt et al., 1989) that have also suggested death awareness negatively alters people's perceptions of dissimilar others.
The personal responsibility and societal frames did not show significant differences between the frames' effects on people's attitudes toward welfare recipients. However, the story claiming that social institutions were the causes of Barb having to collect welfare, not the recipient herself, elicited slightly more positive overall attitudes toward out-groups. Although analyses did not reveal a significant difference between the two groups, there was a slight trend for attitudes to be more positive for people who read about structural causes versus personal reasons.
A possible explanation for why the structural frame yielded the most positive attitudes is because as an individualistic society people are conditioned to be hard-working and independent. Therefore, by reading about welfare recipients, people automatically perceive out-groups negatively because the perception is a learned reaction.
There was not a significant difference found between the individualistic and structural frames because the type of stimulus used to convey the welfare recipient's situation was not influential enough. Simply reading about someone's situation may not evoke the same emotional response as watching a video would, for instance. Individuals may respond differently to the type of stimuli depending on whether they are behavioral or cognitive stimuli.
The Interpersonal Judgment Scale may not have provided a sufficient number of items to measure the degree of liking towards others. Because the current study measured attitudes from only two statements about cooperativeness and liking, an accurate assessment of attitudes was not achieved. Therefore, future studies may utilize scales that more broadly address the degree of peoples' attitudes toward out-groups. There are a multitude of assessment techniques which may be used to determine degree of liking, however, those scales used that do not include multiple items may not be broad enough in their ability to determine attitudes.
Furthermore, the information that was included on the IJS may not have pertained to the information that was provided in each of the framing stimuli. For instance, the individualistic frame stated that responsibility for one's situation in life lies solely with the individual, whereas the structural frame attributed status to public policy. The scale included items that addressed specific opinions, such as the intelligence level of an out-group member, although the experimental stimuli did not include statements about intelligence.
A more recent explanation for the current findings on out-group attitudes could be due to the terrorist attacks. The implications suggest that unless people initially hold positive beliefs about out-groups, death awareness will not alter attitudes. Therefore, according to previous research (Rosenblatt et al., 1989, Study 2), two things can be inferred: existing attitudes were strengthened not changed, and participants may have held positive attitudes initially, and only after reading about death their attitudes changed.
A slight trend in mean differences revealing that a story about coupons and the structural stimuli were the most positive on overall attitudes toward welfare recipients may suggest framing information changes people's attitudes (Greenberg et al., 1992, Study 2; Iyenger, 1990; Nelson & Oxley, 1999). In general, specific attitudes may be a result of the way information is presented. However, ultimately death wins out and regardless of how information is presented, when people are exposed to out-groups, death anxiety emerges and dictates our final attitudes.
Future researchers assessing attitudes toward members of out-groups might want to consider other scales of measurement pertaining to group dynamics. The IJS attempted to portray people's attitudes based on two questions that may not be generalizable across situations. In other words, instead of assessing perceptions using specific words, as does the IJS, questions should be broadly framed in order to account for differences in experiences for all people.
Another suggestion to consider for further research is to use members of the out-group and in-group in order to allow for more comparative and generalizable results. Readers, both scholars of the field and lay people, will be able to interpret the findings according to both in- and out-grouper's perspectives.