Blaming the victim – why do we do it? For example, are rape victims responsible for what happens to them? Are victims of car crashes or other accidents responsible for what happened to them? These are the kinds of questions we examine as we look at the strange human tendency to blame the victim. We make all kinds of attributions as to why people do what they do – where do we often go wrong?
Test yourself to see if you really know the difference between these types of biases (requires latest version of Flash).
Blaming The Victim
1: Fundamental Attribution Error
- “people do what they do because of the kind of people that they are, not because of the situation they are in”
- “people tend to underestimate external influences when explaining other people’s behavior”
2: Actor/Observer (bias) Difference
- “Whereas we are very likely to find internal causes for other people’s behavior, we tend to look …to the situation to explain our own behavior”
- Example: in a murder trial, the prosecution will call the person a murderer, defense will focus on the difficulty of the person’s life at the time or their childhood, characteristics of the person murdered. “That person drove my client to do what he/she did”
3. Self-serving Attribution (bias): while we tend to take credit for our successes (attribute success to internal causes), we blame our failures on external causes
- I earned an A, my professor gave me a C
- Why? Because it threatens our self esteem to think that failures were caused by something about ourselves
- Example: sports – when a team wins, they attribute it to talent or skill, when they lose, they attribute it to bad luck, poor playing conditions, bad calls from the umpires rather than “I didn’t train hard/study hard enough”, “Our team wasn’t as good”
- It feels bad to attribute our failures to ourselves
4. Optimism bias: “good things are more likely to happen to oneself than to others and bad things are less likely to happen to oneself”
- A kind of “defensive attribution”
- Teenage driving habits – very risky
- Runner Jim Fixx wrote a book: “The Complete Book of Running”, and died at a young age.
- Why do we tend to hold this belief? Because the world is a scary, unpredictable place and that makes us feel anxious. The only way to feel a little better is to believe that it couldn’t happen to me. “I would have acted differently”, “That wouldn’t happen to me because…”I would make different decisions”
5. Belief in a Just World: bad things happen to bad people, “or at least to people who make mistakes, poor choices, etc.” thus, bad things won’t happen to me because I wouldn’t make those mistakes.
- “the belief in a just world keeps anxiety-provoking thoughts about one’s own safety at bay” Aronson, et. al.
- when the world seems chaotic or dangerous, this is anxiety provoking. so we attempt to reassure ourselves by blaming the victim
Resources for this week’s episode
The quote this week came from the book “The Art of Growing Up” by Veronique Vienne and with some wonderful photographs by Jeanne Lipsey. You can find it at Amazon here.
Last but not least, savor apparently insignificant moments when nature itself seems to encourage us to release our grip: when a leaf falls form a tree, when the sun suddenly disappears behind a hill, or when a soft autumn drizzle blurs the landscape.
Activities for Teachers and Students
- Do students agree that the optimistic bias is stronger than any education we might give women? If that’s so, what can be done?
- Students could debate the statement that “Women should know what they are getting themselves into” when they go to frat parties and the like. Students could anonymously write down a number from the following scale: 1 = “It’s totally the woman’s fault if she gets date raped at a frat party.” to 10 = “It’s not at all the woman’s fault.” Then discuss the issue and take another anonymous poll (little slips of paper folded and handed into the teacher for counting) after the discussion.
- One treatment for violent offenders, including rapists, is to have them watch and listen to rape victims so that they see the pain that is inflicted on them. Should this be done at college orientations? If some students consider this approach too drastic, what other ways might there be to help college men understand the gravity of this violation?