Onset and Offset Controllability in Perceptions and Reactions to Home Mortgage Foreclosures
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Sample size: 1200
Field period: 5/6/2009-7/9/2009
The circumstances and rhetoric surrounding home foreclosures provide an ideal and timely backdrop for an extension of research on attributional judgments. While people face foreclosure for many reasons, the current debate surrounding the mortgage crisis has highlighted reasons that are either onset or offset controllable; that is, the initial cause, or the subsequent solution may be seen as controllable.In the current study, I examine how people use attributional evidence from multiple time points to determine affective reactions and helping intentions for people undergoing foreclosure, as well as ideological differences in these attributional processes. Participants read about people who were undergoing foreclosure for onset and offset controllable or uncontrollable reasons and then answer questions about their perceptions of these targets. The results suggested that both onset and offset controllable information contributed to the emotional reactions and helping intentions of the participants with the participants experiencing more negative affect and less helping intentions when the target was in a controllable onset or offset situation. Conservatives primarily relied on onset controllability information to decide who should receive government aid, while liberals updated their initial attributions with offset controllability information.
The study was designed to address the following questions: Do liberals and conservatives react to the combination of onset and offset controllability information differently? Do these potential differences influence the amount of government and personal assistance people suffering from the mortgage crisis should receive?
Participants were randomly assigned to one of four conditions where they read about individuals who were in control (or not) of the onset or offset of the mortgage foreclosure situation.
Onset Controllable: Some people have a large monthly mortgage payment because they wanted to purchase a larger house than they needed.
Onset Uncontrollable: Some people have a large monthly mortgage payment because they were misled by a mortgage loan officer that their payments would remain low, when in fact, their payments ended up being very high.
Offset Controllable: Now they are facing foreclosure because they do not want to continue paying the mortgage, even though they are able to afford the payments.
Offset Uncontrollable: Now they are facing foreclosure because the primary income earner in the household lost their job due to their company closing and they can no longer afford payments.
Measured independent variable--political ideology:
-In terms of economic policy would you say you are a conservative, liberal, or somewhere in between?
-In terms of social policy would you say you are a conservative, liberal, or somewhere in between?
Key Dependent Measures
-Perceived onset and offset controllability
-Perceived onset and offset responsibility
-Anger towards target
-Sympathy towards target
-Support or opposition for government help for people in situation similar to the targets.
-Likelihood of personal help for people in situation similar to the targets.
-Are you and your immediate family in foreclosure, nearing foreclosure, or are you currently not in immediate danger of foreclosure?
-Is anyone in your extended family in foreclosure, nearing foreclosure, or are you currently not in immediate danger of foreclosure?
There were main effects for political ideology, onset controllability, and offset controllability on perceived onset and offset controllability, anger, sympathy, and helping intentions, such that people described in onset and offset controllable situations were perceived as having more control over their situation, were perceived with more anger and less sympathy, and were offered less help. Similarly, conservatives, compared to liberals, perceived the situations as more controllable with more anger and less sympathy. They were also less likely to support helping people through governmental or personal means.
There was one interaction between offset controllability and political ideology when predicting support for government help, suggesting that strong conservatives did not differ in support for offset controllable and uncontrollable targets, while liberals made a distinction between these two groups.
These results replicate past work on differences between liberals and conservatives attributional reasoning, as well as attributional models of affect and helping behavior (e.g. Weiner, 1980). Extending past research, this study found that both onset and offset controllability impact emotional and helping responses and that in some cases conservatives may ignore offset controllability information.