Social Justice Research

, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 69–90 | Cite as

Blaming the victim: Belief in control or belief in justice?

  • Jürgen Maes
Article

Abstract

The attribution of responsibility to victims of bad fate (“blaming the victim”) is discussed under the perspective of Just World Theory (Lerner, 1980) and the Defensive Attribution Hypothesis (Walster, 1966; Shaver, 1970). Whereas Just World Theory suggests that the belief in a just world is the decisive motive of increased attributions of responsibility, the Defensive Attribution Hypothesis assumes that these attributions are motivated by the need to believe in internal locus of control. Research evidence shows both motives as conceptually linked and empirically correlated. The central question is whether belief in a just world and belief in internal control are facets of the same latent variable or empirically distinguishable constructs, and whether they contribute independently to attributions of responsibility and blame to victims of misfortune. Results of a questionnaire study assessing opinions about cancer and cancer victims are reported. There is evidence from factor analyses that the two motives are indeed distinguishable constructs. The correlation patterns and the results of multiple regression analyses show that both motives are meaningfully related to attributions of responsibility. Moreover, it is suggested that belief in a just world is not a homogeneous construct. Belief in immanent justice according to which present misfortune is seen as a consequence of prior faults and sins is differentiated from belief in ultimate justice according to which one can be sure that present misfortune will be compensated in the long run. Whereas belief in immanent justice is the most important predictor for attributions of responsibility, the suggested emotional consequences of such attributions, like belief in invulnerability or confidence in coping, can be predicted by belief in internal control and belief in ultimate justice. Finally, suggestions are made to extend Just World Theory to clarify the function of justice motives in the person's search for meaning in his or her life.

Key Words

attribution of responsibility attribution of blame belief in a just world locus of control victimization cancer invulnerability 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Alexander, C. S. (1980). The responsible victim: Nurses' perceptions of victims of rape.J. Health Soc. Behav. 21: 22–33.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Anthony, S. (1976). The attribution of responsibility for the outcome of an interpersonal interaction.J. Psychol. 93: 85–91.Google Scholar
  3. Bloch, E. (1980).Das Prinzip Hoffnung, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt.Google Scholar
  4. Bridges, J. S., and McGrail, C. A. (1989). Attributions of responsibility for date and stranger rape.Sex Roles 21: 273–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Broussard, S. D., and Wagner, W. G. (1988). Child sexual abuse: Who is to blame?Child Abuse Neglect 12: 563–569.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Bulman, R. J., and Wortman, C. B. (1977). Attributions of blame and coping in the “real world”: Severe accident victims react to their lot.J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 35: 351–363.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Burger, J. M. (1981). Motivational biases in the attribution of responsibility for an accident: a meta-analysis of the Defensive-Attribution Hypothesis.Psychol. Bull. 90: 496–512.Google Scholar
  8. Collins, B. E. (1974). Four components of the Rotter Internal-External scale: Belief in a difficult world, a just world, a predictable world, and a politically responsive world.J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 29: 381–391.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Connors, G. J., Ranish, S. S., and Maisto, S. A. (1982). Alcohol and victim compensation as determinants of responsibility attribution in traffic accidents.J. Stud. Alcohol 43: 1251–1256.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Fleming, J. S., and Spooner, P. S. (1985). Five factor scales for internal-external control and their relations to measures of adjustment.J. Clin. Psychol. 41: 512–517.Google Scholar
  11. Furnham, A., and Procter, E. (1992). Sphere-specific just world beliefs and attitudes to AIDS.Hum. Rel. 45: 265–280.Google Scholar
  12. Gleason, J. M., and Harris, V. A. (1976). Perceived freedom, accident severity and empathic value as determinants of the attribution of responsibility.Soc. Behav. Pers. 4: 171–176.Google Scholar
  13. Herbst, E. (1992). Zuschreibungen von Verantwortlichkeit und Schuld gegenüber Opfern durch unbeteiligte Dritte in ihrer Abhängigkeit von Gerechtigkeits- und Kontrollierbarkiets-überzeugungen sowie Gerechtigkeits- und Kontrollierbarkeits-zentralität. Unveröffentlichte Diplomarbeit, Universität Trier.Google Scholar
  14. Kaemmerer, W. F., and Schwebel, A. I. (1976). Factors of the Rotter Internal-External Scale.Psychol. Rep. 39: 107–114.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Kordmann, P. (1991). Determinanten der Opferbeurteilung. Einflüsse von Gerechtigkeits- und Kontrollierbarkeitsüberzeugungen auf den Attributionsprozeβ. Unveröffentlichte Diplomarbeit, Universität Trier.Google Scholar
  16. Langley, T., Yost, E. A., O'Neal, E. C., Taylor, S. L.,et al. (1991). Models of rape judgment: Attributions concerning event, perpetrator, and victim.J. Offender Rehabil. 17: 43–54.Google Scholar
  17. Lerner, M. J. (1965). Evaluation of performance as a function of performer's reward and attractiveness.J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 1: 355–360.Google Scholar
  18. Lerner, M. J. (1977). The justice motive in social behavior. Some hypotheses as to its origins and forms.J. Pers. 45: 1–52.Google Scholar
  19. Lerner, M. J. (1978). ... but nobody liked the Indians. “Belief in a just world” versus the “Authoritarianism” syndrome.Ethnicity 5: 229–237.Google Scholar
  20. Lerner, M. J. (1980).Belief in a Just World. A Fundamental Delusion. Plenum Press, New York.Google Scholar
  21. Lerner, M. J., and Miller, D. T. (1978). Just world research and the attribution process: Looking back and ahead.Psychol. Bull. 85: 1030–1051.Google Scholar
  22. Lerner, M. J., and Simmons, C. H. (1966). The observer's reaction to the “innocent victim”: compassion or rejection?J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 4: 203–210.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Levenson, H. (1972). Distinctions within the concept of internal- external control: Development of a new scale. Proceedings of the 80th annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, pp. 261–262.Google Scholar
  24. Lipkus, I. (1991). The construction and preliminary validation of a global belief in a just world scale and the exploratory analysis of the multidimensional belief in a just world scale.Pers. Indiv. Diff. 12: 1171–1178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Miller, D. T. (1977). Altruism and threat to the belief in a just world.J. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 13: 113–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Montada, L. (1986). Life stress, injustice, and the question: “Who is responsible?” In Steensma, H., and Vermunt, G. (ed.),Justice in Human Relations, Plenum Press, New York.Google Scholar
  27. Montada, L. (1991). Attribution of responsibility for losses and perceived injustice. In Montada, L., Filipp, S.-H., and Lerner, M. J. (ed.), Life Crises and the Experience of Loss in Adulthood, Lawrence Eribaum, Hillsdale, NJ.Google Scholar
  28. Montada, L., Schmitt, M., and Dalbert, C. (1986). Thinking about justice and dealing with one's own privileges: A study on existential guilt. In Bierhoff, H. W., Cohen, R., and Greenberg, J. (eds.), Justice in Social Relations, Plenum Press, New York, pp. 125–143.Google Scholar
  29. Piaget, J. (1983).Le Jugement Moral Chez L'enfant, Alcan, Paris.Google Scholar
  30. Rim, Y. (1981). Who believes in graphology?Pers. Indiv. Diff. 2: 85–87.Google Scholar
  31. Rotter, J. B. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement.Psychol. Mongr. 80 (Whole No. 608): pp. 1–28.Google Scholar
  32. Rubin, Z., and Peplau, L. A. (1973). Belief in a just world and reactions to another's lot: A study of participants in the National Draft Lottery.J. Soc. Issues 29: 73–93.Google Scholar
  33. Rubin, Z., and Peplau, L. A. (1975). Who believes in a just world?J. Soc. Issues 31 (3): 65–90.Google Scholar
  34. Ryan, W. (1971).Blaming the Victim, Pantheon, New York.Google Scholar
  35. Sadow, D. (1983). Irrational attributions of responsibility: Who, what, when, and why.Psychol. Rep. 52: 403–406.Google Scholar
  36. Shaver, K. G. (1970). Defensive attribution: Effects of severity and relevance on the responsibility assigned for an accident.J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 14: 101–113.Google Scholar
  37. Skinner, E., Chapman, M., and Baltes, P. B. (1988). Control, means-ends, and agency beliefs: A new conceptualization and its measurement during childhood.J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 54: 117–133.Google Scholar
  38. Sontag, S. (1979).Illness as a Metaphor, Vintage, New York.Google Scholar
  39. Sosis, R. H. (1974). Internal-external control and the perception of responsibility of another for an accident.J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 30: 393–399.Google Scholar
  40. Thornton, B., Ryckman, R. M., and Robbins, M. A. (1982). The relationships of observer characteristics to beliefs in the causal responsibility of victims of sexual assault.Hum. Rel. 35: 321–330.Google Scholar
  41. Ugwuegbu, D. C., and Hendrick, C. (1974). Personal causality and attribution of responsibility.Soc. Behav. Pers. 2: 76–86.Google Scholar
  42. Valentine-French, S., and Radtke, H. L. (1989). Attributions of responsibility for an incident of sexual harassment in a university setting.Sex Roles 21: 545–555.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Vallacher, R. R., and Selz, K. (1991). Who's to blame? Action identification in allocating responsibility for alleged rape.Soc. Cognit. 9: 194–219.Google Scholar
  44. Walster, E. (1966). Assignment of responsibility for an accident.J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 3: 73–79.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Witt, L. A. (1989). Urban-nonurban differences in social cognition: Locus of control and perceptions of a just world.J. Soc. Psychol. 129: 715–717.Google Scholar
  46. Zuckerman, M., and Gerbasi, K. C. (1977). Belief in internal control or belief in a just world: The use and misuse of the I-E-scale in prediction of attitudes and behavior.J. Pers. 45: 356–378.Google Scholar
  47. Zuckerman, M., Gerbasi, K. C., and Marion, S. P. (1977). Correlates of the just world factor of Rotter's I-E Scale.Educ. Psychol. Measur. 37: 375–381.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jürgen Maes
    • 1
  1. 1.Universiät TrierGermany

Personalised recommendations