The impact of anthropomorphizing and gendering nature on perceptions of natural disasters
Anthropomorphizing, or ascribing human qualities to nature, is associated with stronger pro-environmental attitudes (Liu et al., 2019), but also reduced support for victims of natural disasters (Sacchi et al., 2013). Research has also demonstrated an association between women and nature (Reynolds & Haslam, 2011) and documented negative effects of personifying women using nature (Tipler & Ruscher, 2019), but little to no work has directly examined the consequences of anthropomorphizing and gendering nature in the context of natural disasters. Across six studies, I examined how natural disasters are depicted and how these depictions relate to disaster outcomes. I first demonstrated that overarching gender and environmental attitudes are related in a nationally representative sample (Study 1), then examined how manipulated depictions of gendered and anthropomorphized hurricanes (Study 2, 4) and volcanoes (Study 3) relate to gender attitudes and disaster outcomes. Results demonstrated that anthropomorphizing is associated with stronger environmental concern, femme hurricanes elicit stronger help intentions, and gender attitudes play a role in responses to gendered disasters; however, these relationships did not hold in reference to volcanic eruptions (Study 3), a likely boundary condition for these effects. Lastly, I examined relief funding (Study 5a) and news headlines (Study 5b) for gendered hurricanes, finding that femme hurricanes have received higher funding in several categories and that headlines demonstrate meaningful linguistic differences derived from hurricane gender as well as the political affiliation of the news outlet. Specifically, headlines describe femme storms using more positive emotion language and tone, while masculine storms are described with more analytical language (Study 5b). Overall, these findings speak to how naming disasters, particularly hurricanes, has a variety of effects on disaster outcomes such as help intentions and relief funding, but also on how storms are described in popular media. These finding have critical implications for our understanding of how current disaster programming and naming practices are affecting the outcomes of disasters (e.g., relief funding). Public health programming may wish to consider naming more thoroughly in the future, particularly before naming winter storms (Fritz, 2015) and heat waves (Williams, 2022) becomes common practice.