Psychology in today's society Conference Venue: Fisher's Hotel, Pitlochry Scottish Branch
From: 26 Nov 2004 To: 28 Nov 2004
Repairing historical rifts: is collective guilt the answer? Victim-focused moral outrage as an alternative
University of Edinburgh
Rachael Eggins <Rachael Eggins>
Australian National University
In recent years, representatives of countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom and Switzerland have publicly acknowledged the crimes their countries have committed against particular victim groups in the past. Social psychologists have attributed this recent trend to ‘collective guilt’ and have recommended this emotion to policy makers for its positive consequences, such as victim compensation. However, the present paper suggests that collective guilt may also have negative effects on the interaction between perpetrator and victim groups. By posing a threat to social identity, it can lead high identifiers to defend their group’s reputation by rationalizing past behaviour and derogating members of the victim group. This paper proposes moral outrage as an alternative to collective guilt. In departing from the ‘system-focused’ type of moral outrage originally researched by Montada & Schneider (1989), the paper proposes ‘victim-focused moral outrage’ as a more viable alternative. This alternative is characterised by anger at the injustice committed against the victim group and by feelings of empathy towards the victims. In contrast to collective guilt, victim-focused moral outrage does not represent a threat to social identity. Therefore, it can be a more powerful emotion, leading both low and high identifiers to engage in political actions that would improve the position of victim groups in today’s society. The paper concludes by discussing how psychological research on group-based emotions can make its contribution to the improvement of today’s society by informing policies aimed at reducing inter-group conflict and maximising solidarity between traditionally rival groups.