Victim-Blaming as Normative: Examining Prescriptive and Descriptive Norms Regarding Victim-Blaming
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This research examines whether there is a normative component to victim-blaming. Social norms refer to social rules or guidelines that guide behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes. According to the Focus Theory of Normative Conduct, social norms can take two forms. Prescriptive norms identify the behaviors and attitudes that members of a particular culture should engage in, while descriptive norms reflect the behaviors and attitudes people actually engage in. These studies used three paradigms to explore whether there are social norms regarding victim-blaming and whether there was consistency between prescriptive versus descriptive norms. Derived from the Focus Theory of Normative Conduct, I hypothesized that participants would evaluate victim-blaming as unlikeable (reflecting a prescriptive norm to avoid victim-blaming), but as an effective method of evaluating victims and their situations (reflecting a descriptive norm to engage in victim-blaming). These hypotheses were partially supported. The pilot and Study 1 found that participants reported higher levels of victim-blaming when asked to present themselves as unlikeable, but lower levels of victim-blaming when asked to present themselves as likeable. Contrary to hypotheses, Study 1 additionally found that participants reported higher levels of victim-blaming when presenting themselves as incompetent versus competent. Studies 2 and 3 conceptually replicated these results through an alternative paradigm in which participants evaluated an ostensible third party based on his/her responses to a victim-blaming questionnaire. Results indicated that participants evaluated a low victim-blaming target as more likeable However, results regarding competence were inconsistent: Study 2 found no difference in competence ratings between high and low victim-blaming, while Study 3 revealed that low victim-blaming targets were perceived as more competent. Finally, Study 4 investigated whether victim-blaming influenced perceptions of an individual’s qualification for leadership positions. Results suggested that potential candidates who engaged in low (versus high) levels of victim-blaming were perceived as more suitable for the position. Moreover, low victim-blaming candidates were perceived as both more likeable and more competent. (Study 2, Study 3).
Rieck, Stacey M (2017). Victim-Blaming as Normative: Examining Prescriptive and Descriptive Norms Regarding Victim-Blaming. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from