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.
Blaming appears to relate to include brain activity in the temporoparietal junction (TPJ). The amygdala has been found to contribute when we blame others, but not when we respond to their positive actions.
Sociology and psychology
Humans - consciously and unconsciously - constantly make judgments about other people. The psychological criteria for judging others may be partly ingrained, negative and rigid indicating some degree of grandiosity.
Blaming provides a way of devaluing others, with the end result that the blamer feels superior, seeing others 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.
Two main types of self-blame exist:
- 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 victimized.
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 include:
- supportive responses
- psychoeducational responses (learning about rape trauma syndrome for example)
- 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.
Blaming others can lead to a "kick the dog" effect where individuals in a hierarchy blame their immediate subordinate, and this propagates down a 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
Labeling theory accounts for blame by postulating that when intentional actors act out to continuously blame an individual for nonexistent psychological traits and for nonexistent variables, those actors aim to induce irrational guilt at an unconscious level. Blame in this case becomes a propaganda tactic, using 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. For centuries, governments have used blaming in the form of demonization to influence public perceptions of various other governments, to induce feelings of nationalism in the public. Blame can objectify people, groups, and nations, typically negatively influencing 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, see the flow of blame in an organization as one of the most important indicators of that organization's robustness and integrity. Blame flowing upwards in a hierarchy, Weinberg argues, proves that superiors can take responsibility for their orders to their inferiors, and supply them with the resources required to do their jobs. But blame flowing downwards, from management to staff, or laterally between professionals, indicate 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 lacking emotional safety.
A no-blame culture has been widely[quantify] 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 in aviation. Together with questions of accountability, this has also been subsumed under the concept of creating a Just culture. However, research 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"
- Hoffman, Morris B. (2014). The Punisher's Brain: The Evolution of Judge and Jury. Cambridge Studies in Economics, Choice, and Society. Cambridge University Press. p. 68. ISBN 9781107038066. Retrieved 2014-05-22.
Our adult brains [...] have dedicated circuits devoted to the assessment of intentionality and harm, and to the calculation of blame based on those two assessments, using intent as the main driver and harm only as a tiebreaker. Part of those blaming circuits lie in a region called the temporoparietal junction, or TPJ. It is an area of the cortex roughly even with the top of the ears.
- amygdala has been found
- Ngo, Lawrence; Kelly, Meagan; Coutlee, Christopher G; Carter, R McKell; Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter; Huettel, Scott A (2015). "Two Distinct Moral Mechanisms for Ascribing and Denying Intentionality.". Scientific Reports. 5: 17390. doi:10.1038/srep17390. PMC . PMID 26634909.
Based on converging behavioral and neural evidence, we demonstrate that there is no single underlying mechanism. Instead, two distinct mechanisms together generate the asymmetry. Emotion drives ascriptions of intentionality for negative consequences, while the consideration of statistical norms leads to the denial of intentionality for positive consequences.
- Brown, N.W., Coping With Infuriating, Mean, Critical People – The Destructive Narcissistic Pattern (2006)
- Braiker, H.B., Who's Pulling Your Strings? How to Break The Cycle of Manipulation (2006)
- Frazier, P.A.; Mortensen, H.; Steward, J. (2005). "Coping Strategies as Mediators of the Relations Among Perceived Control and Distress in Sexual Assault Survivors". Journal of Counseling Psychology. 52 (3): 267–78. doi:10.1037/0022-0184.108.40.2067.
- Matsushita-Arao, Y. (1997). Self-blame and depression among forcible rape survivors. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering. 57(9-B). p. 5925.
- Branscombe, N.R.; Wohl, M.J.A.; Owen, S.; Allison, J.A.; N'gbala, A. (2003). Counterfactual Thinking, Blame Assignment, and Well-Being in Rape Victims. Basic & Applied Social Psychology, 25(4), p. 265, 9p.
- Jeanna Bryner: Workplace Blame Is Contagious and Detrimental, LiveScience, 2010-01-19, citing the January 2010 issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
- Gerald M. Weinberg: Beyond Blaming, March 5, 2006, AYE Conference
- Phyllis Maguire: Is it time to put "no blame" in the corner?, Today's Hospitalist, December 2009
- A Roadmap to a Just Culture: Enhancing the Safety Environment, First Edition, GAIN Working Group E, September 2004
- McGivern, Gerry; Fischer, Michael (2010). "Medical regulation, spectacular transparency and the blame business". Journal of Health Organization and Management. 24 (6): 597–610. doi:10.1108/14777261011088683.
- McGivern, Gerry; Fischer, Michael D. (February 2012). "Reactivity and reactions to regulatory transparency in medicine, psychotherapy and counselling". Social Science & Medicine. 74 (3): 289–296. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.09.035. PMID 22104085.
- Douglas, T. Scapegoats: Transferring Blame (1995)
- Wilcox, C.W. Scapegoat: Targeted for Blame (2009)
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