Someone to blame: When identifying a victim decreases helping Academic Article uri icon


  • People's willingness to contribute (WTC) more resources to save the lives of identified victims than to save anonymous or statistical victims is known as the identifiable victim effect. Previous research suggested that the emotional arousal (empathy and distress) toward a single identified victim is a major source of the effect. However, identification of a single target may also strengthen negative perceptions (like blame) in situations where the target is perceived as responsible for his/her plight. In five studies (collecting real contributions and hypothetical WTC) we show that identifying a person in need may increase or decrease helping depending on the perceived responsibility of the victim for his/her own plight. Our results suggest that in cases when it is possible to blame the victim, identification of a single target enhances negative perceptions of the victim and decreases helping, especially when the perceiver holds strong beliefs in a just world for others.

publication date

  • January 1, 2011