(2020). Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology.
We investigate the consequences and predictors of emitting signals of victimhood and virtue. In our first three studies, we show that the virtuous victim signal can facilitate nonreciprocal resource transfer from others to the signaler. Next, we develop and validate a victim signaling scale that we combine with an established measure of virtue signaling to operationalize the virtuous victim construct. We show that individuals with Dark Triad traits—Machiavellianism, Narcissism, Psychopathy—more frequently signal virtuous victimhood, controlling for demographic and socioeconomic variables that are commonly associated with victimization in Western societies. In Study 5, we show that a specific dimension of Machiavellianism—amoral manipulation—and a form of narcissism that reflects a person’s belief in their superior prosociality predict more frequent virtuous victim signaling. Studies 3, 4, and 6 test our hypothesis that the frequency of emitting virtuous victim signal predicts a person’s willingness to engage in and endorse ethically questionable behaviors, such as lying to earn a bonus, intention to purchase counterfeit products and moral judgments of counterfeiters, and making exaggerated claims about being harmed in an organizational context.
Fortune and human imperfection assure that at some point in life everyone will experience suffering, disadvantage, or mistreatment. When this happens, there will be some who face their burdens in silence, treating it as a private matter they must work out for themselves, and there will others who make a public spectacle of their sufferings, label themselves as victims, and demand compensation for their pain. This latter response is what interests us in this series of studies. Much research documents the intrapsychic and
social costs of being a victim (Bar-Tal, Chernyak-Hai, Schori, & Gundar, 2009; Taylor, Wood, & Lichtman, 1983; Zur, 2013), yet the increasing presence of individuals and groups publicly claiming victim status has led many observers to conclude that Western societies have developed a culture of victimization that makes victim-claiming advantageous (Campbell & Manning, 2018).
As explained earlier, victim signaling can yield many positive personal and social outcomes, such as helping people heal and raising awareness about the conditions that lead to victimization. Our article focuses on a different set of questions associated with victim signaling, including an examination of its functionality as a social influence tactic, how its effectiveness can be maximized by combining it with a virtue signal, who is likely to emit this dual signal, and whether the frequency of signaling virtuous victimhood can predict certain behaviors and judgments.