The Sins of Their Fathers: When Current Generations Are Held to Account for the Transgressions of Previous Generations

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Abstract

When are current generations held accountable for transgressions committed by previous generations? In two studies, we test the prediction that current generations will only be assigned guilt for past atrocities when victim group members perceive high levels of cultural continuity between historical perpetrators and the current generation within the perpetrator group. Japanese participants were presented with information describing the current generation of Americans as either similar or dissimilar in personality to the Americans who were implicated in dropping the atomic bomb on Japan during World War II. The results of both studies revealed that victim group members assigned more guilt to current Americans when they perceived high (compared to low) outgroup continuity, and they did so relatively independently of the transgressor group's guilt expressions.

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