Observer's reaction to the "innocent victim": Compassion or rejection?

  • Lerner M
  • Simmons C
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Abstract

Under the guise of an experiment on the perception of emotional cues, 72 undergraduate female Ss observed a peer (victim) participating in a paired- associate learning task. The victim, as a result of making the usual errors, appeared to receive severe and painful electric shocks (negative reinforcement). In describing the suffering victim after these observations, Ss rejected and devalued her when they believed that they would continue to see her suffer in a 2nd session, and when they were powerless to alter the victim's fate. Rejection and devaluation were strongest when the victim was viewed as suffering for the sake of Ss ("martyr" condition). These results offer support for the hypothesis that rejection and devaluation of a suffering victim are primarily based on the observer's need to believe in a just world.

Author-supplied keywords

  • AFFECT, COMPASSION VS REJECTION &
  • ATTITUDES &
  • OPINIONS
  • REACTION TO INNOCENT VICTIM
  • SOCIAL PERCEPTION, EMOTIONAL CUES &

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Authors

  • Melvin J. Lerner

  • Carolyn H. Simmons

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