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Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Dominant groups support digressive victimhood claims to counter accusations of discrimination

F. Danbold, et al.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 98, January 2022, 104233


When dominant groups are accused of discrimination against non-dominant groups, they often seek to portray themselves as the victims of discrimination instead. Sometimes, however, members of dominant groups counter accusations of discrimination by invoking victimhood on a new dimension of harm, changing the topic being discussed. Across three studies (N = 3081), we examine two examples of this digressive victimhood – Christian Americans responding to accusations of homophobia by claiming threatened religious liberty, and White Americans responding to accusations of racism by claiming threatened free speech. We show that members of dominant groups endorse digressive victimhood claims more strongly than conventional competitive victimhood claims (i.e., ones that claim “reverse discrimination”). Additionally, accounting for the fact that these claims may also stand to benefit a wider range of people and appeal to more abstract principles, we show that this preference is driven by the perception that digressive victimhood claims are more effective at silencing further criticism from the non-dominant group. Underscoring that these claims may be used strategically, we observed that individuals high in outgroup prejudice were willing to express a positive endorsement of the digressive victimhood claims even when they did not fully support the principle they claimed to be defending (e.g., freedom of religion or speech). We discuss implications for real-world intergroup conflicts and the psychology of dominant groups.


• Charged with discrimination, dominant groups often claim victimhood.

• These claims can be digressive, shifting the topic of conversation.

• Members of dominant groups prefer digressive claims over competitive claims.

• They see digressive claims as effective in silencing further criticism.

• Digressive victimhood claims are endorsed strategically and sometimes insincerely.