A dual-motive model of scapegoating: displacing blame to reduce guilt or increase control

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2012 Jun;102(6):1148-63. doi: 10.1037/a0027413. Epub 2012 Apr 30.


The authors present a model that specifies 2 psychological motives underlying scapegoating, defined as attributing inordinate blame for a negative outcome to a target individual or group, (a) maintaining perceived personal moral value by minimizing feelings of guilt over one's responsibility for a negative outcome and (b) maintaining perceived personal control by obtaining a clear explanation for a negative outcome that otherwise seems inexplicable. Three studies supported hypotheses derived from this dual-motive model. Framing a negative outcome (environmental destruction or climate change) as caused by one's own harmful actions (value threat) or unknown sources (control threat) both increased scapegoating, and these effects occurred indirectly through feelings of guilt and perceived personal control, respectively (Study 1), and were differentially moderated by affirmations of moral value and personal control (Study 2). Also, scapegoating in response to value threat versus control threat produced divergent, theoretically specified effects on self-perceptions and behavioral intentions (Study 3).

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Guilt*
  • Humans
  • Intention
  • Internal-External Control*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Morals
  • Motivation*
  • Scapegoating*
  • Young Adult