Derogating innocent victims: The effects of relative versus absolute character judgments
journal contributionposted on 2023-08-30, 14:50 authored by Rael J. Dawtry, Mitchell J. Callan, Annelie J. Harvey, James M. Olson
Drawing on just-world theory and research into the suppression and justification of prejudice, we propose that the use of relative compared to absolute measures of an innocent victim’s character enables observers to derogate the victim without transparently violating social norms or values proscribing derogation. In Study 1, we found that positive feelings expressed toward victims mirrored social norms proscribing negative reactions toward them. In Studies 2a, 2b and 3, innocent victims were evaluated more negatively when ratings were made using relative (i.e., compared to evaluations of the average student or the self) versus absolute scales. In Study 4, this effect of scale type on derogation was stronger for people higher in the motivation to avoid prejudiced reactions to victims. Relative judgments seem to allow individuals to enact their counter-normative motivation to derogate the victim under the cover of ambiguity and ostensibly rationally motivated social comparison processes.
Publication titlePersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
- Accepted version