Blame means that we hold someone responsible for a behavior; it could be ourselves or others. For example, I am in a bad mood and insult the cashier at the grocery store. I can blame her for being slow, blame myself for inappropriate behavior, or blame us both.
Research is pretty clear that perpetrators deceive themselves and blame themselves too little, like the rapist who says that she was ‘asking for it’ because of her clothing choice or, the more ordinary example, my blaming the cashier (I really didn’t do this). Victims tend to blame themselves too much, like the assault victim who says she should have walked down a different street.
The common thread in blame is that someone had a responsibility to do one thing and they did another instead – it doesn’t have to be rational. I blamed my mother for somehow not getting treatment quickly for her cancer and subsequently dying. She had a responsibility to live longer; like I said, not rational.
Blame can be influenced by different factors and we can be swayed in our judgments by:
- Was there intention to harm? (a mugger gets more blame for harming a pedestrian than the pilot of a plane falling out of the sky at an air show).
- Was there justification? (a father who shoots his child’s attacker will be received differently than if he shoots a neighbor over a parking space).
- How much harm was done? (I carelessly dropped a book and broke your toe vs. fractured your skull).
- Was harm avoidable? (She disappeared from your life without an explanation vs. she called and explained her leaving in a lengthy, b.s. – but responsible – phone call).
We want to believe that we have control, we have free will, we have choice. Therefore, we blame more harshly when people behave as if they had none of these abilities.