A new poverty simulation game called SPENT, developed at Simon Fraser University, aims to help people understand how poverty arises, and how it can be stopped.
Economic inequality is — and has been for some time now — growing across the globe. A team of researchers at Simon Fraser University are working to understand how people at large think about the issues of inequality and poverty, and are now sharing their findings in a five-part global study.
From whence doth poverty come?
“How people understand the causes of poverty influences their willingness to address inequality and help the poor,” says Lara Aknin, an SFU distinguished professor in the department of psychology and co-author of the paper.
“Our dream is to partner with the Vancouver School Board and classrooms around the city to investigate if we see similar long-lasting results using these interventions during these impressionable periods.”
The team drew on data from the World Values survey (corresponding to roughly 30,000 participants’ views) and an additional 2,400 participants that they recruited themselves. In total, the participants came from 34 different countries, the team explains.
While the study as a whole is definitely interesting, I want to focus on the last two portions of the study. During these, the team showed that a simple, cheap, “low-touch” intervention, corresponding to 10 minutes of playing a “poverty simulation” game called SPENT, can help people change their view on poverty and increase support against economic inequality, the team explains.
In SPENT (which you can play here), players are put in the shoes of an impoverished individual for one month and have to handle their daily financial decisions. The team invited 600 students at the university in the lab, dividing them into two groups. One group was asked to play the game, while the other group was used as a control and didn’t play SPENT.
Follow-up research over the next few months showed that those who played SPENT developed a stronger recognition of the causes of poverty, and made them less willing to support economic inequality for at least five months after playing the game.
“Attributing poverty to situational forces is associated with greater concern about inequality, preference for egalitarian policies, and inequality-reducing behaviour,” the team explains in their paper. “Situational attributions may be a potent psychological lever for lessening societal inequality.”
The team is confident that these interventions are scalable and can be used in the classroom to educate younger generations to see economic inequality for the situation-driven tragedy that it really is.
“Why do situational attributions for poverty motivate opposition to economic inequality? People are particularly sensitive to whether opportunities to get ahead in society are perceived to be available. For example, the belief that one’s economic standing is based on merit is a key feature of the American Dream.”
“Recognizing that situational factors beyond one’s personal control can contribute to poverty represents a potent threat to these perceptions.”
The paper “Shifting attributions for poverty motivates opposition to inequality and enhances egalitarianism” has been published in the journal Nature Human Behavior.