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When Accusations Start to Fly, They Multiply

Witnessing someone get blamed for something leads to more self-defensive finger pointing, study finds

SUNDAY, Nov. 29, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- The blame game is a contagious one, a new study reports, even when the target is innocent.

Researchers found that when people see someone blame someone else for a problem, even if it's an unfair accusation, they're much more likely to engage in blaming others, too.

"When we see others protecting their egos, we become defensive, too. We then try to protect our own self-image by blaming others for our mistakes, which may feel good in the moment," study lead author Nathanael J. Fast, an assistant professor of management and organization at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, said in university news release.

The study authors conducted four experiments aimed at discovering what happens when we see someone else being blamed for something. The study was released online in advance of publication in the January print issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

In one experiment, participants read one of two newspaper articles. In one article, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took the blame for the failure of a special election; in the other article, he blamed special-interest groups.

Those who read the article that cast blame on special-interest groups were more likely to blame others for their own problems, the researchers found.

In the big picture, blaming "creates a culture of fear," Fast said, "and this leads to a host of negative consequences for individuals and for groups."

More information

Learn more about emotion from the University of Arizona.

SOURCE: University of Southern California, news release, Nov. 19, 2009
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