“Could this happen to me?”: Threat-related state orientation increases position identification with victims of random, “senseless” violence

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Abstract

Two experiments examined the role of threat-related action-state orientation in how observers become psychologically involved with victims of violence. Observing incidents of random, “senseless” violence is uniquely threatening to observers because they violate just world beliefs and appear like they could happen to anyone. Because stronger threat-related state-oriented individuals are less effective in down-regulating such threats to the self, they should perceive stronger self-concerned position identification (i.e., “this could happen to me”) when confronted with random, “senseless” violence. In contrast, no such effects should occur for observers' person identification (i.e., their other-concerned empathy for the victim). The results of two experiments supported these ideas and ruled out potential alternative explanations based on individuals' just world beliefs, need for cognition, and their attribution strategies. We discuss the importance of threat-related self-regulation processes with regard to self- and other-concerned mechanisms through which observers come to care for victims of violence. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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