Understanding Help Giving After Natural Disasters: Responses to the 2010 Earthquake in Chile

Study by:
Susanne Gabrielsen, Alexander Maki, Patrick C. Dwyer, & Mark Snyder - University of Minnesota
Roberto M. Gonzalez, F. Cortes, S. Lay, & P. Herrera - Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile 
Few events impact the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of the members of an entire community the way that disasters do. Most social psychological research on the impact of disasters considers how people and communities change in the aftermath of disasters with regard to provision of help and social support. Such research has mainly explored the consequences of disasters that are best classified as human-caused and intentional, such as the Holocaust during World War II, the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, and war. For example, research on the consequences of the 9/11 terrorist attacks focused on increases in prosocial behavior and community involvement. 
We aimed to increase our understanding of the impact of large-scale natural disasters on help giving behaviors, and to determine the impact on individuals’ beliefs and helping motivations. Specifically, to explore help giving after natural disasters, we examined the impact of the 2010 earthquake in Chile on Chileans’ perceptions of national identity, trust in political institutions, beliefs in system justifying ideologies, motivations to help others, and engagement in helping behavior. Repeated cross-sectional interviews were conducted in 2009 (644 participants) and after the earthquake in 2010 (1389 participants). We found that levels of national Chilean identity, trust in political institutions, social dominance orientation, self-oriented helping motivations (e.g., self-esteem maintenance), and most helping behaviors were all higher after the earthquake.
The results suggest that in the aftermath of a natural disaster, people come together under a common national identity and support of the social status quo. Driven primarily by self-oriented helping motivations, people give more help. Our findings contribute to basic (e.g., advancing the understanding of self-protective motivations when under threat) and applied (e.g., using help giving as a disaster-specific coping strategy) psychology.