Ambivalence, guilt, and the scapegoating of minority group victims

Date of Original Version




Abstract or Description

This study dealt with denigration of black victims by white harmdoers. It was assumed that white racial attitudes tend to be ambivalent, rather than simply prejudiced, sympathetic, or indifferent. It was also assumed that ambivalence about a given group increases the likelihood of guilt arousal in encounters with members of the group, and consequent resort to guilt-reductive behavior, such as denigration. Two experiments were done. In the first, subjects were assigned the role of “instructor” and administered strong or mild electric shocks to a black or white confederate “learner as punishment for errors”. As predicted, pre- and postshock evaluations of the stimulus person showed greatest derogation in the Black Confederate-Strong Shock group. Next, the Black Confederate-Strong Shock condition was replicated, this time using subjects whose measured racial attitudes represented each of the four combinations of high or low prejudice, and high or low sympathy. As predicted, strongest derogation occurred among subjects who were both high on prejudice and high on sympathy (i.e., who were ambivalent).


Published In

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 9, 5, 423-436.