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.
Aknin, L. B., Barrington-Leigh, C. P., Dunn, E. W., Helliwell, J. F., Burns, J., Biswas-Diener, R., . . . Norton, M. I. (2013). Prosocial spending and well-being: Cross-cultural evidence for a psychological universal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104, 635-652. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0031578
Andreoni, J. (1989). Giving with impure altruism: Applications to charity and Ricardian equivalence. Journal of Political Economy, 97, 1447-1458. https://doi.org/10.1086/261662
Annetta, L. A., Minogue, J. M., Holmes, S. Y., & Cheng, M.-T. (2009). Investigating the impact of video games on high school students’ engagement and learning about genetics. Computers & Education, 53, 74-85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2008.12.020
Bachen, C. M., Hernández-Ramos, P., Raphael, C., & Waldron, A. (2016). How do presence, flow, and character identification affect players’ empathy and interest in learning from a serious computer game? Computers in Human Behavior, 64, 77-87. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2016.06.043
Batson, D. C., Fultz, J., & Schoenrade, P. A. (1987). Distress and empathy: Two qualitatively distinct vicarious emotions with different emotional consequences. Journal of Personality, 55, 19-39. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.1987.tb00426.x
Belman, J., & Flanagan, M. (2010). Designing games to foster empathy. International Journal of Cognitive Technology, 14(2)/15(1), 11-21.
Bjørnskov, C. (2010). How comparable are the Gallup World Poll life satisfaction data? Journal of Happiness Studies, 11, 41-60. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-008-9121-6
Bramesfeld, K. D., & Good, A. (2016). C’est La Vie! The Game of Social Life: Using an intersectionality approach to teach about privilege and structural inequality. Teaching of Psychology, 43, 294-304. https://doi.org/10.1177/0098628316662758
Browne, L. P., & Roll, S. (2016). Toward a more just approach to poverty simulations. Journal of Experiential Education, 39, 254-268. https://doi.org/10.1177/1053825916643832
Bummara, C. (2008). Using poverty simulations to build support for poverty reduction initiatives: A municipal action guide. Washington, D.C.: National League of Cities.
Cheung, F., & Lucas, R. E. (2016). Income inequality is associated with stronger social comparison effects: The effect of relative income on life satisfaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 110, 332-341. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000059
Clark, A. E. (2018). Four decades of the economics of happiness: Where next? The Review of Income and Wealth, 64, 245-269. https://doi.org/10.1111/roiw.12369
Clark, A. E., & D’Ambrosio, C. (2014). Attitudes to income inequality: Experimental and survey evidence, IZA Discussion Paper, No. 8136. Bonn, Germany: Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
Clark, R. E., & Mayer, R. (2016). E-learning and the science of instruction. Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Colby, A., Beaumont, E., Ehrlich, T., & Corngold, J. (2010). Educating for democracy: Preparing undergraduates for responsible political engagement. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Cozzarelli, C., Wilkinson, A. V., & Tagler, M. J. (2001). Attitudes toward the poor and attributions for poverty. Journal of Social Issues, 57, 207-227. https://doi.org/10.1111/0022-4537.00209
Davidson, J. H., Preez, L. D., Gibb, M. W., & Nel, E. L. (2009). It's in the bag! Using simulation as a participatory learning method to understand poverty. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 33, 149-168. https://doi.org/10.1080/03098260802276672
Davis, M. H. (1980). A multidimensional approach to individual differences in empathy. JSAS Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 10, 85.
De Grove, F., Van Looy, J., Neys, J., & Jansz, J. (2012). Playing in school or at home? An exploration of the effects of context on educational game experience. Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 10, 199-208.
Diener, E., Lucas, R., Schimmack, U., & Helliwell, J. (2009). Well-being for public policy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Dovidio, J. F., Piliavin, J. A., Schroeder, D. A., & Penner, L. A. (2006). The social psychology of prosocial behavior. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science, 319(5870), 1687-1688. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1150952
Feagin, J. (1972). Poverty: We still believe that God helps them who help themselves. Psychology Today, 6(6), 101-129.
Feagin, J. (1975). Subordinating the poor. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Fontenot, K., Semega, J., & Kollar, M. (2018). Income and Poverty in the United States: 2017 (Report No. P60-263) Retrieved from the U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports website: https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2018/demo/p60-263.pdf
González, R., & Lay, S. (2017). Sense of responsibility and empathy: Bridging the gap between attributions and helping behaviours. In E. van Leeuwen & H. Zagefka (Eds.), Intergroup Helping (pp. 331-347). Cham, Switzerland: Springer.
Greitemeyer, T., Osswald, S., & Brauer, M. (2010). Playing prosocial video games increases empathy and decreases schadenfreude. Emotion, 10, 796-802. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0020194
GriN Multimedia. (2010). Poverty Is Not a Game [Computer game]. Brussels: King Baudouin Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.grin.be/blog/?p=38
Hayes, A. F. (2018). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis. A regression-based approach (2nd ed.). New York and London: The Guilford Press.
Heider, F. (1958). The psychology of interpersonal relations. New York: Wiley.
Hunt, M. O. (2002). Religion, race/ethnicity, and beliefs about poverty. Social Science Quarterly, 83, 810-831. https://doi.org/10.1111/1540-6237.00116
Kluegel, J. R., & Smith, E. R. (1986). Beliefs about inequality: Americans’ views of what is and what ought to be. New York: Aldine De Gruyter.
Layard, R., Mayraz, G., & Nickell, S. (2010). Does relative income matter? Are the critics right? In E. Diener, J. F. Helliwell, & D. Kahneman (Eds.), International differences in well-being (pp. 139-165). New York: Oxford University Press.
Lombard, M., & Ditton, T. (1997). At the heart of it all: The concept of presence. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 3(2). https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1083-6101.1997.tb00072.x
Lombard, M., Ditton, T., & Weinstein, L. (2004). Measuring presence: The Temple Presence Inventory (TPI). Retrieved from http://matthewlombard.com/research/p2_ab.html
Luccasen, R. A., Thomas, M. K., & Grossman, P. J. (2017). Giving to poverty relief charities: The impact of beliefs and misperceptions toward income redistribution in a real donation experiment. Social Choice and Welfare, 49, 387-409. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00355-017-1070-8
Maguire, M., & Delahunt, B. (2017). Doing a thematic analysis: A practical step-by-step guide for learning and teaching scholars. AISHE-J: The All Ireland Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 9(3). Retrieved from http://ojs.aishe.org/aishe/index.php/aishe-j/article/view/335
Menzel, N., Wilson, L. H. & Doolen, J. (2014). Effectiveness of a poverty simulation in Second Life®: Changing nursing student attitudes toward poor people. International Journal of Nursing Education Scholarship, 11(1), 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1515/ijnes-2013-0076
Missouri Community Action Network (2012). Community action poverty simulation (CAPS). Retrieved from http://www.povertysimulation.net
Neys, J., Van Looy, J., De Grove, F., & Jansz, J. (2012, May). Poverty is not a game: Behavioral changes and long-term effects after playing PING. Paper presented at the 62nd Annual ICA Conference, Phoenix, AR.
Nickols, S. Y., & Nielsen, R. B. (2011). “So many people are struggling”: Developing social empathy through a poverty simulation. Journal of Poverty, 15, 22-42. https://doi.org/10.1080/10875549.2011.539400
Nicovich, S. G., Boller, G. W., & Cornwell, T. B. (2005). Experienced presence within computer-mediated communications: Initial explorations on the effects of gender with respect to empathy and immersion. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 10(2). https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2005.tb00243.x
Noone, J., Sideras, S., Gubrud-Howe, P., Voss, H., & Mathews, L. R. (2012). Influence of a poverty simulation on nursing student attitudes toward poverty. Journal of Nursing Education, 51, 617-622. https://doi.org/10.3928/01484834-20120914-01
Norris, D. R. (2013). Beat the Bourgeoisie: A social class inequality and mobility simulation game. Teaching Sociology, 41, 334-345. https://doi.org/10.1177/0092055X13490751
Osborne, D., & Weiner, B. (2015). A latent profile analysis of attributions for poverty: Identifying response patterns underlying people’s willingness to help the poor. Personality and Individual Differences, 85, 149-154. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2015.05.007
Patterson, N., & Hulton, L. J. (2012). Enhancing nursing students’ understanding of poverty through simulation. Public Health Nursing, 29, 143-151. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1525-1446.2011.00999.x
Reid, C. A., & Evanson, T. A. (2016). Using simulation to teach about poverty in nursing education: A review of available tools. Journal of Professional Nursing, 32, 130-140. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.profnurs.2015.10.002
Richey Smith, C. E., Ryder, P. Bilodeau, A., & Schultz, M. (2016). Use of an online game to evaluate health professions students’ attitudes toward people in poverty. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 80(8), article 139. Retrieved from https://www.ajpe.org/doi/full/10.5688/ajpe808139
Roussos, G., & Dovidio, J. F. (2016). Playing below the poverty line: Investigating an online game as a way to reduce prejudice toward the poor. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 10(2), article 3. https://doi.org/10.5817/CP2016-2-3
Ruggiero, D. N. (2014, April). Spent: changing students' affective learning toward homelessness through persuasive video game play. In Proceedings of the 32nd annual ACM conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 3423-3432), Toronto, Canada: ACM.
Sandoval, T. (2016, March 4). Simulating poverty gives charity supporters a taste of hard times. Chronicle of Philanthropy. Retrieved from https://www.philanthropy.com/article/Simulating-Poverty-Gives/235578
Segal, E. A. (2011). Social empathy: A model built on empathy, contextual understanding, and social responsibility that promotes social justice. Journal of Social Service Research, 37, 266-277. https://doi.org/10.1080/01488376.2011.564040
Segal, E. A., Wagaman, M. A., & Gerdes, K.E. (2012). Developing the social empathy index: An exploratory factor analysis. Advances in Social Work 13, 541-560. Retrieved from http://journals.iupui.edu/index.php/advancesinsocialwork/article/view/2042
Sezen, T. I. (2013). The representations of poverty in digital games. In V. Bernard & S. Oksay (Eds.), Images (II)-Images of the Poor: The Conference Proceedings (pp. 47-61). Berlin: LIT Verlag.
Skitka, L. J., & Tetlock, P. E. (1992). Allocating scarce resources: A contingency model of distributive justice. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 28, 491-522. https://doi.org/10.1016/0022-1031(92)90043-J
Slovic, P. (2010). The more who die, the less we care. In P. Slovic & E. Michel-Kerjan (Eds.), The irrational economist: Making decisions in a dangerous world (pp. 30-40). New York: Public Affairs Press.
Smith, C., Ryder, P., Blais, M., & Schneck, R. (2017). Evaluation of two different poverty simulations with professional phase pharmacy students. Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning, 9, 903-910. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cptl.2017.05.018
Steck, L. W., Engler, J. N., Ligon, M., Druen, P. B., & Cosgrove, E. (2011). Doing poverty: Learning outcomes among students participating in the Community Action Poverty Simulation program. Teaching Sociology, 39, 259-273. https://doi.org/10.1177/0092055X11407347
Stewart, J., Bleumers, L., Van Looy, J., Mariën, I., All, A., Schurmans, D.,. . . Misuraca, G. (2013). The potential of digital games for empowerment and social inclusion of groups at risk of social and economic exclusion: Evidence and opportunity for policy [EUR scientific and technical report no. 25900 EN]. Seville, Spain: Institute for Prospective Technological Studies. Retrieved from: https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/publication/eur-scientific-and-technical-research-reports/potential-digital-games-empowerment-and-social-inclusion-groups-risk-social-and-economic
Strasser, S., Smith, M. O., Pendrick Denney, D., Jackson, M. C., & Buckmaster, P. (2013). A poverty simulation to inform public health practice. American Journal of Health Education, 44, 259-264. https://doi.org/10.1080/19325037.2013.811366
Tagler, M. J., & Cozzarelli, C. (2013). Feelings toward the poor and beliefs about the causes of poverty: The role of affective-cognitive consistency in help-giving. The Journal of Psychology, 147, 517-539. https://doi.org/10.1080/00223980.2012.718721
Todd, M., de Guzman, M. R. T. & Zhang, X. (2011). Using poverty simulation for college students: A mixed-methods evaluation. Journal of Youth Development, 6(2), 72–77. https://doi.org/10.5195/JYD.2011.189
Todman, L. C., Brodyn, A., Berger, J., Willard, S., & Taylor, J. S. (2013). Evaluation of the Social Exclusion Simulation: A training tool for professional psychology. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 44, 324-330. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0034643
Vandsburger, E., Duncan-Daston, R., Akerson, E., & Dillon, T. (2010). The effects of poverty simulation, an experiential learning modality, on students' understanding of life in poverty. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 30, 300-316. https://doi.org/10.1080/08841233.2010.497129
Verhoeven, J. C., Heerwegh, D., & De Wit, K. (2010). Information and communication technologies in the life of university freshmen: An analysis of change. Computers & Education, 55, 53-66. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2009.12.002
Vlachopoulos, D., & Makri, A. (2017). The effect of games and simulations on higher education: A systematic literature review. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 14, article 22. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41239-017-0062-1
Wang, Y. W., Davidson, M. M., Yakushko, O. F., Savoy, H. B., Tan, J. A., & Bleier, J. K. (2003). The scale of ethnocultural empathy: Development, validation, and reliability. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 50, 221-234. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0184.108.40.206
Weiner, B., Osborne, D., & Rudolph, U. (2011). An attributional analysis of reactions to poverty: The political ideology of the giver and the perceived morality of the receiver. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 15, 199-213. https://doi.org/10.1177/1088868310387615
Willer, R., Wimer, C., & Owens, L. A. (2015). What drives the gender gap in charitable giving? Lower empathy leads men to give less to poverty relief. Social Science Research, 52, 83-98. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssresearch.2014.12.014
Yang, K., Woomer, G. R., Agbemenu, K., & Williams, L. (2014). Relate better and judge less: Poverty simulation promoting culturally competent care in community health nursing. Nurse Education in Practice, 14, 680-685. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nepr.2014.09.001
Zosky, D., & Thompson, J. (2012). Poverty simulation: An experiential learning tool emphasizing economic justice content. Journal of Baccalaureate Social Work, 17(1), 69-84. Retrieved from https://jbsw.org/doi/abs/10.5555/basw.17.1.1316126522m7h284
Zucker, G. S., & Weiner, B. (1993). Conservatism and perceptions of poverty: An attributional analysis. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 23, 925-943. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.1993.tb01014.x