Derogating innocent victims: The effects of relative versus absolute character judgments

Rael J. Dawtry, Mitchell J. Callan, Annelie J. Harvey, James M Olson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (SciVal)
144 Downloads (Pure)


Drawing on just-world theory and research into the suppression and justification of prejudice, we propose that the use of relative compared with absolute measures of an innocent victim’s character enables observers to derogate the victim without transparently violating social norms or values proscribing derogation. In Study 1, we found that positive feelings expressed toward victims mirrored social norms proscribing negative reactions toward them. In Studies 2a, 2b, and 3, innocent victims were evaluated more negatively when ratings were made using relative (i.e., compared with evaluations of the average student or the self) versus absolute scales. In Study 4, this effect of scale type on derogation was stronger for people higher in the motivation to avoid prejudiced reactions to victims. Relative judgments seem to allow individuals to enact their counternormative motivation to derogate the victim under the cover of ambiguity and ostensibly rationally motivated social comparison processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)186-199
Number of pages14
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number2
Early online date3 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


  • prejudice
  • relative measures
  • social comparison
  • social norms
  • victim derogation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Derogating innocent victims: The effects of relative versus absolute character judgments'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this