Escape blame by being a victim, not a hero: Study

Thursday, February 17, 2011

WASHINGTON - To escape blame, one needs to be a victim and not a hero, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Maryland and Harvard University have found that great works and praiseworthy behaviour won’t help us escape blame when we do something wrong.

In the study, participants responded to a number of scenarios that mirrored real-life moral transgressions, from stealing money to harming someone.

Results revealed that, no matter how many previous good deeds someone had done, they received just as much blame - if not more - than someone with a less heroic background.

“People may come down even harder on someone like the Dalai Lama, than they do on Joe Blow,” said author Kurt Gray, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Maryland.

“However, in our research those who have suffered in the past received significantly less blame - even if such suffering was both totally unrelated to the misdeed and long since past,” he said.

The findings are based on three experiments conducted by Gray and Daniel Wegner, professor of psychology at Harvard University.

“Our research suggests that morality is not like some kind of cosmic bank, where you can deposit good deeds and use them to offset future misdeeds,” said Gray.

“Instead, people ignore heroic pasts - or even count them against you - when assigning blame,” he added.

In the experiments, those who highlighted past suffering were held less responsible for transgressions and given less punishment.

According to the authors, this fact suggested an explanation for why many celebrities immediately go into rehab or claim victimhood after being caught doing something wrong.

In one experiment, people read about either a hero, normal person, or a victim stealing some money, and then were given a surprise memory test after. Far fewer people remembered the victim stealing money.

The study will be published in the March issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. (ANI)

Filed under: Science and Technology

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