Punishing Individuals for Their Infirmities: Effects of Personal Responsibility, Just-World Beliefs, and In-Group/Out-Group Status


Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Amie C. Braman, Department of Psychology, 1 Brookings Drive/Box 1125, Washington University, St. Louis, MO 63130–4899. e-mail: abraman@artsci.wustl.edu


This research examined how derogation of cancer victims was moderated by (a) the perceived responsibility of the victim, (b) individual differences in just-world beliefs, and (c) whether the victim was an in-group versus out-group member. Participants formed an impression of an in-group or an out-group member who was known to have a terminal case of cancer. Half of the participants were informed that the target person was partially responsible for this medical condition, whereas the remaining participants were not given this information. Results showed that blaming judgments of high versus low responsibility targets were moderated by just-world beliefs, but this was only true when the person being judged was an out-group member. The implications of these results for research and theory on differential processing of in-group versus out-group members are discussed.