Research published in the British Journal of Social Psychology sheds light on the psychological motivations behind attempts to gain acknowledgement that one’s ingroup has been subjected to more injustice than an adversarial social group. The findings indicate that the desire for power plays a key role, even for advantaged groups.
“In recent years, the discourse in many countries has been characterized by competitive victimhood; namely, members of different social groups compete over who suffers more,” said study author Nurit Shnabel, a senior lecturer and director of the Improving Social Relations lab at Tel Aviv University.
“For example, following the #MeToo campaign some men complained that, nowadays, they are the real victims of the situation (because of the risk of false allegations, etc.) We were interested in understanding the psychological motivations that underlie group members’ engagement in competition over the victim status.”
In one study, the researchers compared responses from 71 Arab participants to 193 Jewish participants. In the second, the researchers compared responses from 156 women to 142 men.
As expected, Shnabel and her colleagues found that disadvantaged groups (Arabs and women) tended to exhibit increased victimhood compared to advantaged groups (Jews and men). But among all groups, the need to protect the ingroup’s moral reputation and the need for power were associated with heightened competitive victimhood.
In other words, Jewish participants who agreed with statements such as “I would like the Arabs in Israel to acknowledge that they receive fair treatment from the Jews” and “It is of highest priority for me that the group of Jews in Israel become more powerful” were more likely to also agree with victimhood statements such as “Economically, Jews in Israel are discriminated against compared to Arabs.”
Participants who identified more strongly with their group also tended to exhibit increased victimhood.
“Both advantaged and disadvantaged groups engage in competitive victimhood. They do so due to two types of psychological motivations: the need for moral identity and the need for social power,” Shnabel told PsyPost.
“With regards to the first motivation, people generally associate victimization with innocence. Therefore, if one’s ingroup ‘wins’ the victim status, it means that it is also perceived as moral. With regards to the second motivation, people generally view victims as entitled for compensation. Therefore, if one’s ingroup ‘wins’ the victim status, it means that it is entitled to various resources such as policies to empower it or higher budgets.”
“Groups struggle over both power (budgets, influence, etc.) and moral identity (i.e., group members typically see themselves as ‘the good guys’ and members of the other group as ‘the bad guys’). This struggle makes them engage in competitive victimhood,” Shnabel added.
“In future research we would like to examine whether the empowerment of the minority, or disadvantaged group, and the moral acceptance of the majority, or advantaged group, can reduce their engagement in competitive victimhood and pave the way towards more harmonious and just intergroup relations.”
The study, “Power matters: The role of power and morality needs in competitive victimhood among advantaged and disadvantaged groups“, was authored by Rotem Kahalon, Nurit Shnabel, Samer Halabi, and Ilanit SimanTov-Nachliel.