Shifting attributions for poverty motivates opposition to inequality and enhances egalitarianism


Amidst rising economic inequality and mounting evidence of its pernicious social effects, what motivates opposition to inequality? Five studies (n = 34,442) show that attributing poverty to situational forces is associated with greater concern about inequality, preference for egalitarian policies and inequality-reducing behaviour. In Study 1, situational attributions for poverty were associated with reduced support for inequality across 34 countries. Study 2 replicated these findings with a nationally representative sample of Americans. Three experiments then tested whether situational attributions for poverty are malleable and motivate egalitarianism. Bolstering situational attributions for poverty through a writing exercise (Study 3) and a computer-based poverty simulation (Studies 4a and b) increased egalitarian action and reduced support for inequality immediately (Studies 3 and 4b), 1 d later and 155 d post-intervention (Study 4b). Causal attributions for poverty offer one accessible means of shaping inequality-reducing attitudes and actions. Situational attributions may be a potent psychological lever for lessening societal inequality.

Nature Human Behavior