Law and Human Behavior

, Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 92–103 | Cite as

Attributions of Blame and Responsibility in Sexual Harassment: Reexamining a Psychological Model

  • Kristen M. Klein
  • Kevin J. Apple
  • Arnold S. Kahn
Original Article


Kelley’s (Nebr Symp Motiv 15:192–238, 1967) attribution theory can inform sexual harassment research by identifying how observers use consensus, consistency, and distinctiveness information in determining whether a target or perpetrator is responsible for a sexual harassment situation. In this study, Kelley’s theory is applied to a scenario in which a male perpetrator sexually harasses a female target in a university setting. Results from 314 predominantly female college students indicate that consistency and consensus information significantly affect participants’ judgments of blame and responsibility for the situation. The authors discuss the importance of the reference groups used to derive consensus and distinctiveness information, and reintroduce Kelley’s attribution theory as a means of understanding observers’ perceptions of sexual harassment.


Sexual harassment Attribution Kelley Hostile environment Blaming the victim 



We would like to thank Monica Reis-Bergan for her contributions to this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© American Psychology-Law Society/Division 41 of the American Psychological Association 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kristen M. Klein
    • 1
  • Kevin J. Apple
    • 2
  • Arnold S. Kahn
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  2. 2.James Madison UniversityHarrisonburgUSA

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