Verifying victimhood: how severity and number of misfortunes affect claims to the victim role

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Victim research indicates that victims receive numerous benefits. However, previous research has not addressed what legitimatizes a claim to the victim role. Claims often include citations of the severity and number of misfortunes. Yet, how these factors influence the legitimacy of a claim is unexplored. Whereas emotional, cognitive, and behavioral reactions to victims have been thoroughly studied, previous research has not explored how these channels of response provide a coherent explanation of reactions to claims to the victim role. In this study I sought to determine the factors responsible for the acceptance or rejection of an individual’s claims to the victim role. More specifically, I was interested in examining the consequences of usurping the victim role. Participants evaluated a donation-seeking target person on a fictitious crowd sourcing website. Participants were randomly assigned to view to one of four video interviews by the donation requester. Misfortunes varied in number (2 or 5) and severity (minor or severe) in the videos. After the video, participants were randomly assigned to (1) provide explicit appraisals and emotional reactions to the target, or (2) provide implicit emotional reactions to the target, or (3) watch an additional video of the target (an avoidance of the target measure). Donation pledges were measured for all participants. Minor misfortunes generated weaker emotional connections, less sympathy, and smaller donations than severe misfortunes. Numerous misfortunes led to the most avoidance of the target person. Severity and number of misfortunes interacted to create the most negative reactions for numerous minor misfortunes and the most positive reactions for numerous severe misfortunes. These results provide strong evidence that the legitimacy of a claim to the victim role is influenced by the severity and number of misfortunes.

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