The belief in a just world & language abstraction: victim derogation through language abstraction
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Three studies were conducted to find out whether people use language abstraction to derogate a victim who poses a threat to their Belief in a Just World (BJW). The theory of a Belief in a Just World essentially relies on the idea that people need to belief that the world is a just place in which good things happen to good people and bad things to bad people. People will use strategies to defend this belief. When people make themselves believe that a serious crime happened to a victim because of his/ her character or behavior, they don’t have to admit that the world is not a just place. There are various ways to defend the BJW. In the current research I show that people defend their BJW through the use of language abstraction. I use the Linguistic Category Model (LCM) to categorize the level of language abstraction people used in their language to describe a victim. The language people use is classified by the LCM and the average language abstraction is calculated through the formula offered by the LCM. The LCM distinguishes between four levels of language abstraction. Level 1 constitutes of descriptive action verbs, level 2 constitutes of interpretative action verbs, level 3 constitutes of state verbs and level 4 of language abstraction constitutes of adjectives. Abstract language tends to be more general and says something about the character of a person while concrete or less abstract language is more situational bound and points out to more specific behaviors. In Study 1 I show that participants generally portray higher levels of language abstraction when their BJW is threatened than participants whose BJW is not threatened. Study 2 was designed to find language abstraction with a positive or negative meaning in order to be able to relate the language participants used to victim derogation (negative language in the current research is needed for victim derogation). Crime preventive (positive) and risk increasing (negative) behaviors were used as stimulus material in Study 2. Results showed that participants were not willing to portray abstract language when commenting on behaviors performed by the victim that might have increased the risk for a crime to happen (e.g. walking outside at night in unlit areas). Participants in Study 2 showed a general tendency to portray crime preventive behaviors performed by the victim with high levels of language abstraction which points out to the idea that people are not willing to obviously blame or derogate a victim. In Study 3 I used general behaviors that were unrelated to the crime performed of the victim in order to avoid that participants might feel that they are directly blaming the victim for the crime that happened to them. Study 3 clearly supported the main prediction of this thesis, specifically, participants whose BJW was threatened used relatively higher levels of language abstraction to describe the general negative behaviors performed by the victim than participants whose BJW was less threatened. Moreover, participants who experienced a high threat to their BJW also recalled relatively less positive facts about the victim than participants who experienced a low threat to their BJW. Both results point out to aspects of victim derogation. Besides the results found for victim derogation through language abstraction, the amount of words used (words in general and words that could be categorized by the LCM) and the recall of information turned out to be significantly different for participants experiencing a high threat to their BJW and participants experiencing a low threat to their BJW.