A team of researchers from the University at Buffalo recently conducted a study to evaluate the role of risk communication and altruism of the US public during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
The results show that selflessness of US citizens was heightened when featured news stories discussed the ways that the outbreak could affect life in the US.
The researchers found that risk communication involving health, science, and environmental issues should appeal to a collective worldview in order to trigger altruistic behavior. Media stories and risk communication demonstrating more individualistic worldviews do not trigger as much altruism even if they do portray greater risk of the outbreak spreading.
When the media shows that an event is only a distant risk, even if the depiction still shows that the event is important and possibly dangerous for larger communities, the general US public doesn’t show timely altruistic behavior intention.
"When we manipulate risk perception, we see that two factors influence altruistic behaviors across the two conditions," Janet Yang, a professor of communication in the UB College of Arts and Sciences, said. "One is issue salience or the perceived importance of the Ebola outbreak. The other is how deeply the message is processed."
University at Buffalo located at 12 Capen Hall, Buffalo, New York 14260-1660