Numerous studies have documented the potential for victim-blaming attributions to justify the status quo. Recent work suggests that complementary, victim-enhancing stereotypes may also increase support for existing social arrangements. We seek to reconcile these seemingly contradictory findings by proposing that victim derogation and victim enhancement are alternate routes to system justification, with the preferred route depending on the perception of a causal link between trait and outcome. Derogating "losers" (and lionizing "winners") on traits (e.g., intelligence) that are causally related to outcomes (e.g., wealth vs. poverty) serves to increase system justification, as does compensating "losers" (and down-grading "winners") on traits (e.g., physical attractiveness) that are causally unrelated to those outcomes. We provide converging evidence using system-threat and stereotype-activation paradigms.
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