Who blames the victim?
Niemi and Young
What determines whether someone feels sympathy or scorn for the victim of a crime? Is it a function of political affiliation? Of gender? Of the nature of the crime? (If you are mugged on a midnight stroll through the park, some people will feel compassion for you, while others will admonish you for being there in the first place. If you are raped by an acquaintance after getting drunk at a party, some will be moved by your misfortune, while others will ask why you put yourself in such a situation.) Their experiments find that the critical factor lies in a particular set of moral values. Their experiments show that the more strongly you privilege loyalty, obedience and purity — as opposed to values such as care and fairness — the more likely you are to blame the victim.
Why do victims sometimes receive sympathy for their suffering and at other times scorn and blame? Here we show a powerful role for moral values in attitudes toward victims. We measured moral values associated with unconditionally prohibiting harm (“individualizing values”) versus moral values associated with prohibiting behavior that destabilizes groups and relationships (“binding values”: loyalty, obedience to authority, and purity). Increased endorsement of binding values predicted increased ratings of victims as contaminated (Studies 1-4); increased blame and responsibility attributed to victims, increased perceptions of victims’ (versus perpetrators’) behaviors as contributing to the outcome, and decreased focus on perpetrators (Studies 2-3). Patterns persisted controlling for politics, just world beliefs, and right-wing authoritarianism. Experimentally manipulating linguistic focus off of victims and onto perpetrators reduced victim blame. Both binding values and focus modulated victim blame through victim responsibility attributions. Findings indicate the important role of ideology in attitudes toward victims via effects on responsibility attribution.
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