What You Should Have Asked Your Teachers About Guilt & Scapegoating

What You Should Have Asked Your Teachers About Guilt & Scapegoating

Guilt is a very prominent feeling in our society. It can arise in a variety of contexts, even in simple daily situations we all encounter: eating, sports activities, different types of competitions, academic work or in our family environment. An empirical study conducted by Ghorbani, Liao, Çayköylü & Chand (2013) showed that guilt is a strong predictor of reparative behavior, as it induced compensation to family and close friends, but also to strangers.

Another interesting phenomenon is scapegoating, the act of wrongfully assigning blame to a person or a group which will consistently receive negative treatment. It is deeply ingrained within our society and can be observed on different levels. Some recently revitalized movements, such as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, shed light on the institutionalized racism experienced by the black community in our society. Paradoxically, scapegoating, despite its blaming nature, has been shown to lead to engagement in reparative, or compensatory, behaviors (Rothschild, Landau, Sullivan, & Keefer, 2012).

As part of a research practical course at Maastricht University, our team of 9 second year psychology students, conducted a study. In order to get more insights on the underlying mechanisms that might link the act of scapegoating to guilt and further reparative actions arising from the feeling, the impact of different scapegoating scenarios in relation to the COVID pandemic were investigated. The main hypothesis states that the highest levels of state guilt will be experienced after having initially high scores on a trait guilt scale and encountering the scenario where the protagonist is actively involved in an act of scapegoating. The aim of our study is to illustrate this mechanism, as it might provide us with some useful insights on these interrelated phenomena.

Yours truly, group 9-A


  • Ghorbani, M., Liao, Y., Çayköylü, S. & Chand, M. (2013). Guilt, shame, and reparative behavior: the effect of psychological proximity. Journal of Business Ethics114(2), 311–323.
  • Rothschild, Z. K., Landau, M. J., Sullivan, D., & Keefer, L. A. (2012). A dual-motive model of scapegoating: Displacing blame to reduce guilt or increase control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102(6), 1148–1163. doi:10.1037/a0027413

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