Dr. Nadine Knab, BMI Postdoctoral Fellow

Academic Advisor:

Dr. Boaz Hameiri, School of Social and Policy Studies

Research project:

When helping is a wolf in a sheep’s clothing – how the interplay of norms and threat perceptions can maintain social inequality

Extreme weather, rising water levels, and a damaged ecosystem will heavily impact the already large number of refugees. The need to help people that flee their country will be a significant future challenge. Helping as a concept inherently entails unequal power relations, as the help provider has resources the help recipient does not have. Thus, Dr. Knab argues that helping can lead to maintaining power relations, especially when helping is offered in a dependency-oriented manner (help that makes the recipient dependent on continued help instead of providing the tools, i.e., autonomy-help). In this project, Dr. Knab proposes that norms to help the disadvantaged group (in one’s social environment and on a country level) impact which of these seemingly different action tendencies is shown. Concretely, people who feel threatened by the disadvantaged group but perceive strong norms to help the group should opt for dependency-oriented help because it allows them to follow the norms in their environment but also satisfy their underlying motivation to maintain hierarchy due to the perceived threat. Data from a pilot experimental study (N = 110) and three studies conducted in Germany and Israel (combined N = 823) show that dependency-oriented help is highest when participants perceive strong norms but feel threatened simultaneously. This interaction was not visible for autonomy help. Whereas studies 1-3 were conducted with refugees as the disadvantaged group, study 5 (N = 365) aimed to extend the findings to a different intergroup setting and shows also that Jewish Israelis offer more dependency-help to Arab Israelis when there is a high threat and strong norms perceptions (in contrast to weak norms). In a fifth study conducted in the US (N = 200), Dr. Knab aimed to reduce negative emotions (including threat) to give rise to autonomy-oriented help. By creating interdependence between citizens and people migrating to the country, people showed higher autonomy helping in contrast to a control group. The results have implications for initiatives that can increase social equality.