Social Identities and the Attribution of Blame

32 Pages Posted: 7 Sep 2010

Date Written: September 2, 2010


Abstract: Individuals develop causal stories about the world around them that explain events, behaviors, and conditions. These stories may attribute causes to controllable components, such as individual choice, or uncontrollable components, such as broader forces in the environment. We employ attribution theory to outline how identities may shape causal attributions about problems, with a particular focus on whom or what is blamed for problems. We argue that social identities, such as partisanship and veteran status, can predispose individuals take make certain causal attributions over others. We test several hypotheses using individual level data from national surveys to explain attributions of blame for alleged prisoner abuses in the war on terrorism, including prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison. Our findings suggest that social identities predispose people to make certain attributions of blame, and some social identities interact with other individual characteristics to shape attributions. We suggest that attribution theory would be significantly enhanced by better incorporating the social identities of observers.

Keywords: attribution, opinion, blame

Suggested Citation

Joslyn, Mark R. and Haider-Markel, Donald P., Social Identities and the Attribution of Blame (September 2, 2010). Available at SSRN: or

Mark R. Joslyn

University of Kansas ( email )

Donald P. Haider-Markel (Contact Author)

University of Kansas ( email )

1541 Lilac Lane
Department of Political Science
Lawrence, KS 66045
United States
765-864-9034 (Phone)
765-864-5700 (Fax)

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