The threat of those who "understand": Ways in which out-groups induce guilt

Sven Zebel*, Bertjan Doosje, Russell Spears

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Two types of out-groups are hypothesized to make people feel guilty about their in-group's misdeeds. Given its expertise and legitimacy, a disapproving victimized out-group should raise guilt. However, when a morally tainted perpetrator out-group is the evaluator, a need to differentiate the self from this out-group should characterize the guilt responses. This out-group's disapproval should therefore diminish guilt, whereas some understanding toward the in-group's position may paradoxically increase guilt. Moreover, these patterns are likely to be accentuated as in-group identification increases. Predictions were supported among Dutch participants (N = 145) who read how either the current Jewish Dutch (victimized out-group) or Germans (perpetrator out-group) evaluated the Dutch collaboration with the Nazis. Results indicated that compassion for the victimized partially mediated the guilt responses. Implications for how perpetrator groups are persuaded to acknowledge their misdeeds are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)154-162
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean journal of social psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2009
Externally publishedYes


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