Why me? : self-blame attributions and counterfactual thinking in victims of crime
The aim of the thesis was to see whether or not counterfactual thinking plays a significant role in psychological readjustment and interpretation of the experience of house breaking taking the victim’s perspective. The results of early studies of blame attribution (Janoff-Bulman, 1979; Meyer & Taylor, 1986; Frazier, 1990; Frazier & Schauben, 1994 and Winkel, Denkers, & Vrij, 1994) could have been influenced by the way the questions were phrased in the measures used in which blame attribution and counterfactual style was confounded. It is not clear from past research whether self-blame serves to enhance or inhibit psychological readjustment from the victimisation experience. A series of four studies are reported in this thesis. Experiment 1 was conducted with four manipulations of a set of questions taken from Janoff-Bulman (1979) and Winkel et al.’s (1994) studies. Janoff-Bulman (1979) suggested that there was a distinction between blaming one’s character and blaming one’s behaviour in cases of criminal victimisation. When Janoff-Bulman’s (1979) original experiment (which suggested that there were two types of self-blame) was replicated, the distinction between behavioural and characterological self-blame was supported. However, when sets of questions were presented in a consistent counterfactual style the distinction between behaviour and character was no longer found. This has implications for future research in the field of functional attribution as counterfactual thinking may have influenced participant’s responses to the questions asked in early research, rather than aspects of self-blame attribution. Experiment 2 was conducted to see if Kahneman and Tversky’s (1982) original counterfactual thinking theory could be replicated using a housebreaking scenario. The results confirmed that it did. Experiment 3 was conducted to pilot interview techniques and the use of a range of psychological measures in the final experiment. Experiment 4 was conducted on a self-selected group of victims of housebreaking. Counterfactual thinking was revealed in interview data. A prospective analysis showed that counterfactual thinking in the first phase of the study predicted counterfactual thinking 12 months later. Analysis also revealed that counterfactual thinking in the first phase predicted psychological readjustment. When compared with low frequency counterfactual thinkers, those who thought counterfactually most frequently just after the incident scored in the abnormal range of stress and impact of the event measures several months later. The findings may explain confounds in attributional explanations of psychological readjustment. Results could also direct future research on counterfactual thinking and its impact on affective responses. Finally, the findings can inform us about the possible effectiveness of a restorative justice approach.