Esteem and control bases of blame: “Adaptive” strategies for victims versus observers


  • This research was supported by NIMH Grant R03 MH33402. The author would like to thank Emily Slate for her valuable assistance.

Reprint requests should be sent to Dr. Ronnie Janoff-Bulman, Department of Psychology, University of Massachu-setts, Amherst, MA 01003.


An experiment was conducted to determine the esteem and control correlates of behavioral and characterological blame for victims and observers. On the basis of a proposed motivation to minimize perceptions of vulnerability, it was predicted that behavioral self-blame would be “adaptive” for victims, whereas both behavioral and characterological blame of the victim would be “adaptive” for observers. As hypothesized, behavioral self-blame by victims was associated with high self-esteem and perceptions of future avoid ability of the victimization, whereas both behavioral and characterological blame by observers were associated with high self-esteem. Behavioral blame was more likely to be engaged in by victims than by observers, and characterological blame was more likely to be engaged in by low esteem victims and high esteem observers. The study employed a role-playing/observer methodology. The adequacy of this methodology and the generalizability of results to actual victim/observer populations are discussed.