The Third Experiment

The Martyred and Innocent Victims
  • Melvin J. Lerner
Part of the Perspectives in Social Psychology book series (CISJ)


The Just World Theory implies that, in effect, people work backwards in their reactions to victims. They assess what is happening, and then calculate what it would take for someone to deserve that fate. If these preconditions are not met, then the observer is confronted with an “injustice.” Response to the injustice can vary as has been described earlier, but typically it begins with a degree of negative affect, “upset,” that is roughly proportional to the magnitude of the injustice. This distress is followed by efforts to reduce it, by restoring justice, or “leaving the field.” An important derivation from these ideas is that, if observers are virtually prevented from leaving the field psychologically and physically, and they are unable to reestablish justice by acting on the victim’s behalf, they will be motivated to find or create additional evidence that the victim actually deserved his fate. And if they cannot locate their victim’s culpability in some act or lack of action, they may have to resort to finding his character personally deficient, labelling him a relatively undesirable person who is likely to cause other people harm. We can arrive, then, at the prediction that innocent and “helpless” observers who are confronted with prima facie evidence of someone’s undeserved suffering will be increasingly likely to reject that victim as a function of the degree of injustice associated with the victim’s fate.


Electric Shock Shock Outcome Altruistic Motive Common Fate Innocent Victim 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melvin J. Lerner
    • 1
  1. 1.University of WaterlooWaterlooCanada

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