A dual-motive model of scapegoating: Displacing blame to reduce guilt or increase control

Zachary K. Rothschild, Mark J. Landau, Daniel Sullivan, Lucas A. Keefer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Scopus citations


The authors present a model that specifies 2 psychological motives underlying scapegoating, defined as attributing inordinate blame for a negative outcome to a target individual or group, (a) maintaining perceived personal moral value by minimizing feelings of guilt over one's responsibility for a negative outcome and (b) maintaining perceived personal control by obtaining a clear explanation for a negative outcome that otherwise seems inexplicable. Three studies supported hypotheses derived from this dual-motive model. Framing a negative outcome (environmental destruction or climate change) as caused by one's own harmful actions (value threat) or unknown sources (control threat) both increased scapegoating, and these effects occurred indirectly through feelings of guilt and perceived personal control, respectively (Study 1), and were differentially moderated by affirmations of moral value and personal control (Study 2). Also, scapegoating in response to value threat versus control threat produced divergent, theoretically specified effects on self-perceptions and behavioral intentions (Study 3).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1148-1163
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2012


  • Climate change
  • Dual-motive model
  • Guilt
  • Personal control
  • Scapegoating

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


Dive into the research topics of 'A dual-motive model of scapegoating: Displacing blame to reduce guilt or increase control'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this