Doctoral Dissertation
University of Oregon

Trauma and betrayal blindness in charitable donations
Laura Ann Kaehler

Defended & Completed May 2013
PhD granted 2014 after clinical internship

Advisor Freyd, Jennifer J.

Dissertation Abstract

            Betrayal trauma theory posits betrayal events often require “betrayal blindness” in order to limit awareness or memory of information regarding the betrayal.  This occurs in order to maintain a connection that is necessary for survival.  Betrayal trauma theory may be applied to events that generally would not be considered traumatic, such as adultery or discrimination.  In order to maintain connections within relationships, institutions, and social systems upon which there is a dependency, people (acting as victims, perpetrators, and witnesses) may show betrayal blindness.  This dissertation consists of two studies investigating betrayal blindness and betrayal trauma history as they relate to charitable behavior. 
            Study 1 included 467 college students at the University of Oregon who completed self-report measures of trauma history and a behavioral measure requesting a hypothetical donation.  Contributions were requested for three scenarios that varied in level of betrayal: natural disaster, external genocide, and internal genocide.  Results indicated no significant main effects for trauma history or type of event.  However, people were less willing to donate to the group of recipients and the genocide conditions at low levels of emotional arousal.  Additionally, those who have experienced high betrayal traumas also were less likely to donate at low emotional response values.  Given the lack of significant findings in this experiment, a second study was conducted using a repeated measures design. 
            Study 2 involved 634 undergraduate students at the University of Oregon.  In addition to the measures from Study 1, participants also completed additional self-report measures assessing trait measures of prosocial tendencies, social desirability, personality, emotion regulation, and betrayal awareness.  There were no main effects on charitable behavior for personality traits, prosociality, emotion regulation, social desirability, or betrayal awareness.  Significant order effects were observed when comparing the type of event and betrayal level of event.  A between-subjects approach revealed people donated less money to the higher betrayal versions of both types of scenarios.  Across both studies, increased affect, particularly guilt, was associated with more charitable behavior.  Although there are several limitations of these studies, the findings represent an important first step exploring prosocial behavior within a betrayal trauma framework. 

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