Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




This study investigates the subject variables involved in the attribution of fault to rape victims. A consideration of attribution theory, in particular Heider's "naive analysis of action," suggests that innocent victims of misfortune will be blamed, however implausible this at first seems. Heider's theory has led to two specific theoretical explanations for blaming, E. Walster's defensiveness hypothesis and Lerner's just world hypothesis, both of which are examined in some detail. The relevant theoretical and experimental literature is reviewed, an assessment of the current standing of these explanations is made, and unresolved issues are raised. Several issues and questions based on these theories are proposed and an experiment designed to address them is described.

A correlational research design was used to determine the effect of various subject variables on the attribution of blame to a victim in a simulated account of a rape incident. The subjects in the study were 201 Introduction to Psychology students at the University of North Dakota. Four classes of variables were studied: experimenter variables (order of presentation of the stimulus and experimenter gender), various demographic measures, measures of personality traits (authoritarianism; locus of control; and the K, Mf, and Pa scales of the MMPI) and social psychological characteristics (attitudes toward feminism and degree of belief in a just world), and several variables involving attitudes toward the victim and the situation. Single and multiple correlations were performed to determine the correlates and predictors of blaming.

The results indicate that the measures of attitudes and cognitions toward the victim and the situation are the best predictors of blaming. Demographic and experimenter variables are generally insignificant, and only a few personality characteristics are accurate predictors of blaming. The general conclusion is that blaming is best accounted for in terms of cognitive and attitudinal factors which depend largely on the subject's perception of the victim and the situation. The results of the study are consistent with Heider's formulation and tend to support Lerner's hypothesis that blaming results from a need to believe in a just world, but not Walster's hypothesis that blaming is an expression of defensiveness. The implications of the results for these theories are discussed and suggestions are offered for further research and theorizing in this area.