Conservatism and Perceptions of Poverty: An Attributional Analysis1


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    We thank Kaori Karasawa for her assistance with the structural equation analysis. This research was supported by Grant #DBS 9211982 from the National Science Foundation to Bernard Weiner.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Gail Sahar Zucker, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90024.


Attribution theory was used to relate causal explanations for poverty to affect and behavioral intentions. In Experiment 1, student subjects rated 13 causes of poverty on importance, the attribution of controllability, blame, affects of pity and anger, and judgments of help-giving (personal help and welfare). Two individual differences, conservatism and the belief in a just world, were also assessed. A principal components analysis categorized the causes into three types: individualistic, societal, and fatalistic. Conservatism correlated positively with a belief in the importance of individualistic causes, controllability, blame, and anger, and it correlated negatively with perceptions of the importance of societal causes, pity, and intentions to help. No systematic effects of the belief in a just world emerged. A structural equation analysis revealed that personal help is emotionally determined, whereas welfare judgments are directly related to attributions of responsibility and political ideology. Experiment 2 revealed a similar pattern of results using a nonstudent sample.