Who is entitled to social welfare?

A Danish researcher has compared two of the most different welfare systems in the western world.  Despite the differences, the research shows surprising similarities in the way in which people in the USA and Denmark perceive the deservingness of welfare recipients. This is one of the conclusions presented in a research article by the highly recognised American Journal of Political Science.

– The question of whether a person deserves help or not triggers a number of deep psychological processes. No matter where we come from, whether we are right or left-wing – it is in our genes, so to speak, explains PhD Michel Bang Petersen, who has studied the fundamental mental short cuts that people take when assessing the right to social welfare.

Universal hunter’s instinct
The dominating criterion when deciding whether a person deserves support or not is an assessment of whether he or she is lazy or has basically been unlucky in life.

So far, research has thought that the deservingness criterion was socially and culturally acquired. And also that the workings of the welfare system in itself reinforce this assessment criterion as it teaches us to take a stand. However, Michael Bang Petersen rejects this notion:

– At least it has nothing to do with the welfare system. It does not tally with the way in which the system works in Denmark at all.

Rather, his findings suggest that a deep psychological instinct is triggered which dates all the way back to the older Stone Age.

– Probably because in the Stone Age, hunting was to some extent about luck. Those who shared their food with others were the ones who survived. In this way, the instinct has survived until the present day, says Michael Bang Petersen.

In other words, the instinct which in the Stone Age helped people decide whether their neighbour had simply been unlucky or was just plain lazy has survived until modern times, simply because the hunters who shared with each other were also the ones who survived the harsh conditions at the time.

Advanced psychological method
Michael Bang Petersen has compared the most different welfare systems in the western world and found out what respondents remember about various complex issues. In cases where the deservingness criterion was dominant, the respondents remember only that one aspect.  The fact that this aspect tends to obliterate all other aspects of a case from our memory, regardless of whether we are from the USA or Denmark, is a sign that it is deeply rooted in our consciousness.

Mental shortcuts, also known as heuristics, are strategies that help our brains to construct opinions about complex issues. Simply because we cannot keep track of every little detail in the world that we experience. Mental shortcuts are also what allow us t rd txts without vowels.

We take similar mental shortcuts when having to decide whether a person deserves our help. Even though we know perfectly well that the question is not that simple, we simplify it anyway to construct a subjective opinion: Does he deserve help because he has been unlucky, or does he not deserve help because he is lazy and to blame for his unfortunate situation.

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