In 1986, Nils Christie proposed that the ideal victim is worthy of sympathy because he or she possesses specific characteristics. Since that time, numerous social scientists have used his ideal victim construct to guide their research. However, few empirical studies have explored whether laypersons use the ideal victim construct to guide their thinking about victims. This study collected and analyzed victim descriptions to empirically explore how people conceptualize victims. Participants were asked to describe either legitimate or illegitimate victims. Then, linguistic analyses were conducted on these descriptions. Legitimate victim descriptions closely aligned with Christie’s ideal victim construct, focusing on concepts such as innocence, vulnerability, experiencing harm, and helplessness. Sympathy-laden language was used in legitimate victim descriptions. Illegitimate victims were described as individuals who failed to be true victims or as phonies. This study provides insight into how laypeople think about victims and provides data-driven support for the ideal victim construct.
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Lewis, J.A., Hamilton, J.C. & Elmore, J.D. Describing the ideal victim: A linguistic analysis of victim descriptions. Curr Psychol (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-019-00347-1
- Ideal victim
- Linguistic analysis
- Moral values