What is it about?
Since late 2019, news outlets and social media platforms have shown examples of people in need amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Immunocompromised people who are scared to leave their homes. Service staff out of work due to restaurant closures. These stories seem designed, at least in part, to increase our concern for those in need and to make us want to help. But do they work? Is it enough to simply hear about the plight of others or do we also need to engage with these stories before they affect our willingness to help? We tested whether imagining helping a person in need increases one’s willingness to help more than just passively reading the same story, and whether this extends to unfamiliar (at the time) COVID-related scenarios. Across 3 large-scale experiments run between April-November 2020, we had older and younger adults read stories depicting people in need (e.g., This person posts on social media that they are completely out of essentials, like toilet paper and hand soap, due to panic buying.). They then either imagined helping the person in need or judged the style of the story. We found that imagining helping others not only increases one’s willingness to help in common, everyday scenarios, but also in the unique scenarios posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. We also found that imagining helping others increased participants’ consideration of the thoughts and feelings of the person in need, their concern for that individual, and the vividness of the scene in their mind. Relatedly, we found that people used richer details when they imagined everyday scenarios, but more basic, factual details for the novel, COVID-related scenarios.
Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash
Why is it important?
This is the first study to show that imagination can be used to increase one’s willingness to help others during an on-going global crisis. In practice, encouraging audiences to engage with stories of people in need by imagining helping can be used to foster prosocial intentions as we navigate the fallout of the pandemic.
Read the Original
This page is a summary of: Episodic simulation of helping behavior in younger and older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic., Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, October 2022, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/mac0000073.
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