Experiencing poverty in an online simulation: Effects on players’ beliefs, attitudes and behaviors about poverty



Digital simulations are increasingly used to educate about the causes and effects of poverty, and inspire action to alleviate it. Drawing on research about attributions of poverty, subjective well-being, and relative income, this experimental study assesses the effects of an online poverty simulation (entitled Spent) on participants’ beliefs, attitudes, and actions. Results show that, compared with a control group, Spent players donated marginally more money to a charity serving the poor and expressed higher support for policies benefitting the poor, but were less likely to take immediate political action by signing an online petition to support a higher minimum wage. Spent players also expressed greater subjective well-being than the control group, but this was not associated with increased policy support or donations. Spent players who experienced greater presence (perceived realism of the simulation) had higher levels of empathy, which contributed to attributing poverty to structural causes and support for anti-poverty policies. We draw conclusions for theory about the psychological experience of playing online poverty simulations, and for how they could be designed to stimulate charity and support for anti-poverty policies.

Poverty; simulations; empathy; presence; subjective well-being

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