Blame is the act of censuring, holding responsible, making negative statements about an individual or group that their action or actions are socially or morally irresponsible, the opposite of praise. When someone is morally responsible for doing something wrong their action is blameworthy. By contrast, when someone is morally responsible for doing something right, we may say that his or her action is praiseworthy. There are other senses of praise and blame that are not ethically relevant. One may praise someone's good dress sense, and blame the weather for a crop failure.
Sociology and psychology
We constantly consciously and unconsciously make judgments about other people. Our basis for judging others may be partly ingrained, negative and rigid indicating some degree of grandiosity.
Blaming is also a way of devaluing others. The end result is that the blamer feels superior. Others are seen as less worthwhile making the blamer "perfect". Off-loading blame means putting the other person down by emphasizing his or her flaws.
Victims of manipulation and abuse frequently feel responsible for causing negative feelings in the manipulator/abuser towards them and the resultant anxiety in themselves. This self-blame often becomes a major feature of victim status.
The victim gets trapped into a self-image of victimization. The psychological profile of victimization includes a pervasive sense of helplessness, passivity, loss of control, pessimism, negative thinking, strong feelings of guilt, shame, remorse, self-blame and depression. This way of thinking can lead to hopelessness and despair.
There are two main types of self-blame:
- behavioral self-blame – undeserved blame based on actions. Victims who experience behavioral self-blame feel that they should have done something differently, and therefore feel at fault.
- characterological self-blame – undeserved blame based on character. Victims who experience characterological self-blame feel there is something inherently wrong with them which has caused them to deserve to be assaulted.
Behavioral self-blame is associated with feelings of guilt within the victim. While the belief that one had control during the abuse (past control) is associated with greater psychological distress, the belief that one has more control during the recovery process (present control) is associated with less distress, less withdrawal, and more cognitive reprocessing.
Counseling responses found helpful in reducing self-blame are supportive responses, psychoeducational responses (learning about rape trauma syndrome for example) and those responses addressing the issue of blame. A helpful type of therapy for self-blame is cognitive restructuring or cognitive–behavioral therapy. Cognitive reprocessing is the process of taking the facts and forming a logical conclusion from them that is less influenced by shame or guilt.
Victim blaming is holding the victims of a crime, an accident, or any type of abusive maltreatment to be entirely or partially responsible for the incident that has occurred in their life.
Blaming others can lead to a "kick-the-dog effect" where individuals in a hierarchy blame their immediate subordinate, and this propagates down the hierarchy until the lowest rung (the "dog"). A 2009 experimental study has shown that blaming can be contagious even for uninvolved onlookers.
As a propaganda technique
Blame is closely associated with labeling theory, in that when intentional actors act out to continuously blame an individual for nonexistent psychological traits, and for nonexistent variables, the actors aim to induce irrational guilt at an unconscious level. It is a propaganda tactic, to use repetitive blaming behaviors, innuendos, and hyperbole in order to assign negative status to normative humans. When innocent people are blamed fraudulently for nonexistent psychological states and nonexistent behaviors, and there is no qualifying deviance for the blaming behaviors, the intention is to create a negative valuation of innocent humans to induce fear, by using fear mongering. Blaming in the form of demonization has been used by governments for centuries to influence public perceptions of various other governments, to induce feelings of nationalism in the public. Blame can be utilized to objectify people, groups, and nations, which can typically negatively influence the intended subjects of propaganda, compromising their objectivity. Blame is utilized as a social control technique.
Some systems theorists and management consultants, such as Gerald Weinberg, held that the flow of blame in an organization was itself one of the most important indicators of that organization's robustness and integrity. Blame flowing upwards in a hierarchy, he argued, proved that superiors were willing to take responsibility for their orders to their inferiors, and supplying them with the resources required to do their jobs. But blame flowing downwards, from management to staff, or laterally between professionals, were signs of organizational failure. In a blame culture, problem-solving is replaced by blame-avoidance. Weinberg emphasizes that blame coming from the top generates “fear, malaise, errors, accidents, and passive-aggressive responses from the bottom”, with those at the bottom feeling powerless and in lack of emotional safety.
A no-blame culture has been widely considered as a means to increase safety, in particular in areas where the consideration of possible human error is important, for instance in hospitals and aviation. Together with questions of accountability, this has also been subsumed under the concept of creating a Just culture. However, conducted by King's College London found that increasing transparency and regulation in health care had unintended consequences of increasing defensive practice. Linked to rare but high profile scandals, a self-interested blame business was found to be increasing a presumption of "guilty until proven innocent"
- Attribution (psychology)
- Attribution bias
- Fundamental attribution error
- Moral responsibility
- Psychological projection
- Douglas, T. Scapegoats: Transferring Blame (1995)
- Wilcox, C.W. Scapegoat: Targeted for Blame (2009)
- (also on praise and blame), in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- , in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy