The victim role: an exploration into descriptions and evaluations of victims

Thumbnail Image
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
University of Alabama Libraries

People agree that legitimate victims ought to be helped and illegitimate victims ought to be punished. Yet, people disagree about who is a legitimate victim. Victimologists theorize that legitimate occupants of the victim role possess characteristics which make them worthy of sympathy. However, this hypothesis is untested. Social contract theory posits that people are suspicious of social exchanges; claims to the victim role activate a social contract that requires others to engage in a social exchange. Thus, people may seek to disqualify victimization claims, but may acknowledge victims as legitimate when they fail to find delegitimizing evidence. Research indicates that individual differences in moral values, just world beliefs, and political values may influence reactions to victims. An individual’s moral values and political values may determine how they conceptualize the victim role. Individuals with strong just world beliefs are more likely to seek out ways to blame victims. This dissertation empirically examined how individuals describe victims and people’s tendency to be suspicious of claims to the victim role. Study 1 examined the language used to describe victims and how moral values, just world beliefs, and political values were related to these descriptions. Results indicated that the victim role comprises meaningful and intuitive concepts such as innocence, vulnerability, experiencing harm, and helplessness. Illegitimate victims were described as phony victims who were attention seekers. Legitimate victims were defined by their situation. Illegitimate victims were defined characteristically as frauds, fakers, and liars. Moral values related to harm, fairness, and purity were used to describe victims. Study 2 tested whether people seek to confirm or disconfirm claims to the victim role. Participants generally sought to confirm claims. However, Democrats preferred confirming evidence, whereas Republicans preferred disconfirming evidence. The evidence contradicted the hypotheses based on social contract theory and supported the idea that the victim role is central to thoughts about and evaluations of victims. These results provide insight into the victim role and how personal values related to morals, politics, and justice influence reactions to victims. Keywords: Victim, Social Role Theory, Social Contract Theory, Moral Values, Political Affiliation, Just World Beliefs

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
Psychology, Sociology