When people blame others for their mistakes, they learn less and perform worse. This problem is magnified when blame becomes embedded in the shared culture of groups and organizations. Yet, little is known about whether???and, if so, how???the propensity to blame spreads from one person to another. Four experiments addressed this issue, demonstrating that blame is socially contagious: observing an individual make a blame attribution increased the likelihood that people would make subsequent blame attributions for their own, unrelated, failures (Experiments 1, 2, and 4). Results also indicated that this ???blame contagion??? is due to the transmission of goals. Blame exposure led to the inference and adoption of a self-image protection goal (Experiment 3), and blame contagion was eliminated when observers had the opportunity to alleviate this self-image protection goal via self-affirmation (Experiment 4). Implications for research on causal attributions, social contagion, and cultural transmission are discussed.
In one ex??pe??ri??ment, half the par??ti??ci??pants were asked to read a news??pa??per ar??ti??cle about state Gov. Arn??old Schwarze??neg??ger blaming spe??cial in??ter??est groups for a con??tro??ver??sial spe??cial elec??tion that failed in 2005, cost??ing Ca??l??i??f??ornia $250 mil??lion. A sec??ond group read an ar??ti??cle in which the gov??er??nor took full re??spon??si??bil??ity for the fail??ure. Those who read the first piece were found more likely to blame oth??ers for their own, un??re??lat??ed short??com??ings.An??oth??er ex??pe??ri??ment found that self-af??firm??a??t??ion in??oc??u??lat??ed par??ti??ci??pants from blame. The ten??den??cy for blame to spread van??ished in a group of par??ti??ci??pants who had the op??por??tun??ity to af??firm their self-worth. ???By giv??ing par??ti??ci??pants the chance to bol??ster their self-worth we re??moved their need to self-pro??tect though sub??se??quent blam??ing,??? said Fast.