Effects of type of injury, sex of victim, and sex of participant on reactions to domestic abuse victims

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Heater, Jill
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Research has shown that victims are often the target of blame, negative emotions, and social avoidance (Dooley, 1995; Drout & Gaertner, 1994; Lerner, 1977; Weiner, 1980). Specifically, empirical evidence shows that people often blame domestic abuse victims for their own abuse. This study examined the emotional and behavioral reactions of 118 University of Manitoba students toward an alleged victim of domestic abuse. In the context of a "decision-making" task, participants encountered another male or female student (actually a confederate) who was supposedly injured as a result of either a sports accident or partner abuse. The abused confederate was portrayed as being either in control or not in control of his or her abuse. The participant rated his or her affect toward the victim, ascribed negative or positive traits to the victim, and indicated his or her choice to work alone or work with the victim. As expected, participants felt less pity and more anger, and ascribed less positive traits toward the abusevictim, than to the accident victim. In addition, they "socially distanced" themselves from the abuse victim. Surprisingly, the female but not the male participants, displayed these negative emotional and behavioral reactions to the abuse victim. In particular, female participants avoided the female victim of "controllable" abuse, and their behavior was mediated by their negative affect.