RESEARCH

In general, our research lab is interested in the psychology of social justice, meaning making, benefit finding, and stereotyping and prejudice. Below are descriptions of selected current research projects.

MAKING MEANING OF HISTORICAL VICTIMIZATION

Different possible meanings can be derived from a given group or personal victimization event—specifically, either the rights or the obligations of victims can be seen as the primary lesson. We explore the possibility that thinking about the harm victims experienced in the past at the hand of another results in such victims being seen as obligated to be subsequently more moral toward others (Warner & Branscombe, 2012). Our research examines the meaning that non-Jewish Americans derive from the Holocaust for Jews today. One lesson that might be taken from such an event is that the victimized group must never be like the perpetrator and instead are morally obligated to help other victims. We have found that when non-Jewish participants think about the lesson of the Holocaust for Jews versus Germans, they view Israelis as more obligated to not do harm and to help others. We have started a new project to examine these processes in hypothetical groups as well.

BENEFIT FINDING IN VICTIMIZATION

Benefit finding, the belief that victims can discover something good in their negative experience is one way that people can make meaning of victimization. Sayings such as Nietzsche’s “what does not kill us, makes us stronger” and “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade” capture the idea that victims should use their tragic experiences to grow and improve. In our research, we look at the what the consequences are for evaluations of victims if they do not manage to find benefits (Warner & Branscombe, 2011). We have found that people will evaluate victims of interpersonal violence more harshly if they do harm to the extent that they believe the victim should have found benefits (Warner, Branscombe, Solomon, & Garczynski, 2011).

STRATEGIES FOR DEALING WITH THREATS TO BELIEF IN A JUST WORLD

Just world theory suggests that people have a need to believe that the world is fair (Lerner, 1980). Seeing an innocent person victimized threatens the image of a just world and motivates people to restore justice through a variety of strategies, including victim blaming, victim derogation, and reinterpreting the outcome of victimization so that it was positive. We are interested in what contextual and personality variables affect the choice of strategy, including construal level and religiosity (VanDeursen, Pope, & Warner, 2012). We have found that more abstract strategies (e.g. benefit finding and character blaming) are more likely for temporally distant events while more concrete strategies (e.g. victim blaming) are more likely for temporally near events (Warner, VanDeursen, & Pope, 2012).

MORAL FOUNDATIONS AND PREJUDICE

Moral foundations theory (Haidt and Graham, 2007) divides human morals into five distinct groups to help explain why some groups cite behaviors as immoral while others disagree that the behavior relates to morals at all. We are interested in how endorsement and priming of different moral foundations influences attitudes towards different groups.