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Scapegoat Theory

 

Explanations > Theories > Scapegoat Theory

Description | Research | Example | So What? | See also | References 

 

Description

When problems occur, people do not like to blame themselves. They will thus actively seek scapegoats onto whom we can displace our aggression. These may be out-group individuals or even entire groups. Like bullies, we will often pick on powerless people who cannot easily resist.

Scapegoating increases when people are frustrated and seeking an outlet for their anger.

Once cast as a scapegoat it can be difficult to shake off the classification. 

Research

Weatherly (1961) got students frustrated and then asked them to write stories based on given pictures. Where the people in the pictures were given Jewish names, students with anti-Semitic tendencies wrote stories that included aggression towards the Jewish characters. 

Example

Jews had been the scapegoat for many people and groups up until the holocaust of World War II. In some communities they are still are used as scapegoats. 

So what?

Using it

When you have a problem, find someone to blame who cannot fight back.

Defending

Refuse to be a scapegoat. When you find people unfairly blaming you, be a tiger and fight back strongly, even if this is not your normal role.

See also

Attribution Theory, Aggression, Roles, Out-Group Homogeneity

References

Allport (1954), Weatherly (1961), Berkowitz and Green (1962), Gemmill (1998)

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