Scapegoat theory, developed initially from Dollard’s (1939) Frustration-Aggression theory, suggests that the dominant group will displace its unfocused aggression onto a subordinate group.
Scapegoating may be one on one, most commonly seen among children. They use this as a method to shift blame to avoid the punishment that may follow.
However scapegoating is usually found among groups and forms one of the major causes of intergroup conflict.
People may blame the others and show hostility towards them leading to tensions among groups. We often find that scapegoating finds a basis in one’s socioeconomic standing.
History contains a number of examples of political leaders using scapegoats to rally their people at the expense of a despised group. In perhaps the most blatant and tragic example in the last century, Adolf Hitler notoriously scapegoated Jews for Germany’s social and economic problems after World War I.
Scapegoating helps in maintaining a positive self-image while creating a feeling of prejudice and negative attitudes towards the group or person that is being scapegoated. By placing blame on other people are able to avoid facing their own weaknesses.
The origin of this theory can be found with reference to the bible where the ‘goat’ – an animal- is burdened with all the sins of the human race and is punished for these sins.
It was found that the goat was burdened with the sins of the people of Israel. The goat is used as an escape from one’s own situation and the consequences that follow.
Scapegoats can suffer a variety of negative consequences including loss of social status, economic problems, social isolation, and depression. People are more likely to engage in scapegoating when they are stressed, experiencing oppression, or afraid.
When negative conditions frustrate a group’s attempts at successful acquisition of its most essential needs (e.g., food, shelter), groups develop a compelling, shared ideology that when combined with social and political pressures may lead to the most extreme form of scapegoating: genocide.