Blame game can be as contagious as epidemic

Blame game can be as contagious as epidemic

The blame game spreads quickly because it triggers the perception that one's self-image is under assault and must be protected.

Nathanael J. Fast, assistant professor of management at the University of Southern California (USC) and Larissa Tiedens, professor of organisational behaviour at Stanford, found that publicly blaming others dramatically increases the likelihood that the practice will become viral.

The study is the first to examine whether shifting blame to others is socially contagious.
"Blaming becomes common when people are worried about their safety in an organisation," Tiedens said. "There is likely to be more blaming going on when people feel their jobs are threatened."

"When we see others protecting their egos, we become defensive too," says Fast, who led the study. "We then try to protect our own self-image by blaming others for our mistakes, which may feel good in the moment."

However, in the long run, such behaviour could hurt one's reputation and be destructive to an organisation and further to our society as a whole, he adds.

"Blame creates a culture of fear and this leads to a host of negative consequences for individuals and for groups," Fast said.

Anyone can become a blamer but there are some common traits. Typically, they are more ego defensive and tend to feel chronically insecure, says an USC release.

President Richard Nixon is one example the authors point to in the study. Nixon harboured an intense need to enhance and protect his self-image and, as a result, made a practice of blaming others for shortcomings.

The results will be published in the November issue of Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.