Volunteerism: Overcoming Cognitive Bias in Media
Authors: Valerie C. Sanz & Deborah E. Scearce-Miles
Original Publication Site & Date: Media Psychology Symposium, July 2020. [virtual symposium]
Abstract: The homeless epidemic is a crisis exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the traditional media portrayals that give psychological comfort to the management of this overwhelming problem. The media’s general depiction of the plight of the homeless is often one of resignation to its inevitability. Another more insidious portrait is media misconceptions that engender fear of the unhoused seeing them as drug addicts, alcoholics, or deviants. The idea that the homeless are undesirables takes the public psychologically off the hook because of a cognitive bias known as the just-world theory.
The idea that the homeless are undesirables takes the public psychologically off the hook.
To answer the question of why people volunteer to help the homeless, we conducted a study of the volunteers in a winter shelter and soup kitchens in California. We found a few themes emerging through a review of the literature, conversations with people who work with the homeless, and interviews with a handful of volunteers. Empathy is one of the most substantial motivating factors among the volunteers and works in tandem with responsibility. Another recurring theme is that of overcoming fear of homeless people perpetuated by media images, especially meaningful during this time of social distancing that has impacted the services available for our most vulnerable people.
Valerie C. Sanz & Deborah E. Scearce-Miles
School of Psychology
Fielding Graduate University
#volunteerism #mediapsy2020 #homeless #mediapsychology