The psychology and language of victim-blaming

The authors of a new study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin have published a column in the New York Times explaining why some people tend to blame the victims of crimes – consciously or unconsciously.

In short, people who favor what the authors call “binding values” – loyalty, obedience, and purity – are more likely to blame victims than people who favor “individualizing values,” like caring and fairness.

Language can affect these perceptions (and presumably subtly reflect them as well).  Language like “Dan forced Lisa” makes people more empathetic with the victim than language like “Lisa was forced by Dan.” The authors conclude by arguing, “Focusing less on victims and more on perpetrators…may be a more effective way of serving justice.”

(image by Benedicte Muller for the New York Times)