Who Helps Natural-Disaster Victims? Assessment of Trait and Situational Predictors


  • Support for this research was provided by a CGS-SSHRC doctoral scholarship.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Zdravko Marjanovic, Department of Psychology, Queen's University, 62 Arch Street, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, K7L 3N6 [e-mail: marjanxrk@gmail.com].


This investigation examined whether trait variables (empathy, global social responsibility) and perceived human responsibility predict and interact to predict people's helping of natural-disaster victims. In Study 1, participants completed a questionnaire and read one of two bogus earthquake reports which portrayed victims as either prepared or unprepared for a foreseeable earthquake. In Study 2, participants completed a questionnaire about the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Across studies, helping was best elicited from high-empathy individuals who attributed responsibility for disasters to human actions (e.g., government), not natural phenomena (e.g., hurricane). Trait variables correlated with helping when assessed individually, but accounted for little unique variance in helping in multiple regression analyses. Judgment of human responsibility predicted helping when participants were familiar with the target disaster (Study 2) but did not predict helping when the disaster was unfamiliar (Study 1). Theoretical implications for researchers and practical implications for aid agencies are discussed.