Changing Societies & Personalities, 2021
Vol. 5, No. 4, pp. 654–668
Cognitive Attitudes and Biases
of Victim Mentality
Olga O. Andronnikova
Novosibirsk State Pedagogical University, Novosibirsk, Russia
Sergey I. Kudinov
Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia, Moscow, Russia
The research analyses cognitive attitudes and biases in people
with victim mentality. The hypothesis that the study aims to test is
that there is a correlation between the level of victimhood and the
cognitive attitudes and biases that determine victim behaviour.
Methodologically, the study relies on a range of tools, including
the adjusted REBT-test (rational emotive behaviour therapy). The
study was conducted in 2018 in Russia and covered a sample of
hypothesis was confirmed and correlations were found between the
type of victim behaviour, victim mentality, dysfunctional attitudes
and irrational beliefs. Irrational beliefs are thus considered as
victimogenic determinants correlating with the level of victimhood
and forms of victim behaviour. These findings can be used to develop
preventive and therapeutic strategies to help patients suffering from
victim mentality and related problems.
cognitive attitudes, cognitive patterns, cognitive biases, victimhood,
Changing Societies & Personalities, 2021, Vol. 5, No. 4, pp. 654– 668 655
problem of victimhood and victim mentality still remains a largely underexplored
issue in cognitive research. It is, therefore, necessary to gain a more in-depth
understanding of the cognitive processes inherent in individual victim behaviour in
order to devise the ways to prevent and correct it (Falikman & Spiridonov, 2011).
Victimhood is a set of human characteristics caused by a complex of social,
psychological and biophysical conditions that exist in a cultural context and contribute
to the maladaptive style of an individual’s response, which leads to the damage of
their physical or mental health (Andronnikova & Volokhova, 2018). It is important
itself through a range of behaviours and can be fixed in attitudes and identity while
qualitative changes on three levels: structural pathologies, functional disorders, and
a consequence of negative events experienced by a person. Such approaches,
however, do not give due account to the individual characteristics of this person,
Victimhood may be seen as a socio-psychological phenomenon (Rohatsen,
2019), a personality characteristic (Andronnikova, 2005; Strelenko, 2013), as a result
of social interaction deficits (Rudensky, 2018; Yatsenka, 2019), as a role (Odintsova,
2012), and so on. Such a multitude of perspectives leads to methodological
problems and creates difficulties in developing some sort of general understanding
of this phenomenon. To date, there is substantial research literature discussing the
factors associated with the cultural, socio-political, psychological, and biological
determinants associated with one’s cognitive-personality style, temporal personality
perspectives, and cognitive patterns have remained under-investigated. At the
same time, there is a lack of diagnostic tools to study victimogenicity. There are
almost no research tools that could be used to explore victimhood as a set of
human characteristics. Moreover, there is insufficient methodological support
give due regard to the need to correct the cognitive attitudes underlying individual
emotional reactions, mental and behavioural responses in a situation of trauma.
Initially, victimology functioned within the framework of criminology. With time,
victimology studies became much broader and more interdisciplinary in nature.
Nevertheless, there is still a perceived need to shift the research focus within these
studies to the field of psychology, not only the psychology of age or social psychology,
but also cognitive and personality psychology. To examine the cognitive mechanisms
656 Olga O. Andronnikova, Sergey I. Kudinov
cognitive biases on the victim’s behaviour and their life choices. Therefore, it is
important to research the nature of victim behaviour and victimogenic cognition
(victim mentality) and identify the cognitive characteristics and biases that a victim
personality possesses. This is the research gap that this study seeks to address.
Currently, much attention in psychological studies is given to victimogenic factors,
including cognitive biases and attitudes, which is the topic we are going to address
in this paper.
There is a group of recent studies dealing with the problem of cognitive attitudes
address the question of victim mentality.
Speaking of the cognitive attitude characteristic of victim mentality, it is
It should be noted that there is no agreed understanding of this concept among the
researchers, although almost all the studies we analysed approached cognitive
or reasoning, pointing out that these patterns constitute part of human personality
(Volkova & Gusev, 2016).
The concept of cognitive patterns was used by Bartlett (1932) and Piaget (1950)
to describe the structures that underlie event interpretation such as beliefs and rules,
self-attitude and the attitude towards other, specific and/or abstract impersonal
categories (Beck & Freeman, 2002). Thus, cognitive patterns determine a person’s
emotional response, thinking and behaviour (Padun & Tarabrina, 2003). Therefore,
such concepts as cognitive patterns and cognitive attitudes may define a single
phenomenon, and the functionality and dysfunctionality of patterns and attitudes
will thus be determined by the degree of their influence on the social adaptability
of a particular person. The patterns have additional structural qualities, and differ
in the degree of their activation at different moments. In the case of a pathological
suppresses other patterns, thereby violating the adaptation and determining systemic
biases in the information processing (Linehan, 1993). In this context, a person may be
determine the specificity of the process of receiving the stimuli leading to a response
(Janoff-Bulman, 1992; Olson, 1994).
Hypervalent active patterns filled with victimhood content (for example, beliefs
about life’s unfairness and injustice, one’s helplessness, etc.) mediate the stable
adaptive responses that ensure a person’s victim behaviour and their self-identification
as a victim. When individual patterns have a very low activation threshold, they are
triggered by insignificant incentives and prevent the use of the patterns that are
more adaptive to a given situation. In fact, we can speak of the impaired cognitive
Changing Societies & Personalities, 2021, Vol. 5, No. 4, pp. 654– 668 657
changing environment (Osavoliuk & Kurginyan, 2018). The impaired behavioural
flexibility means the inability to activate and transform the cognitive processes in
response to the changing conditions, which leads to the inability of a person to
independently change the usual way of perceiving information and regulating
individual’s beliefs within the pattern increase, then become unconditional, and
finally take an extreme maladaptive form. As a result, those individual struggles
have difficulties in establishing adequate personal boundaries. This situation is
additionally exacerbated by the history of childhood trauma, emotional neglect and
broken emotional bonds with the closest people, leading to a cognitive impairment
that occurs when the mechanisms of assimilation and accommodation described
by Piaget (1950) are disrupted. In other words, a child finds it difficult to assimilate a
traumatic experience, but even more difficult is the accommodation of the pattern to
this experience (Padun & Tarabrina, 2003).
related change in the cognitive patterns of those who survived a psychological trauma.
the type of trauma and proposed a therapy aimed at restoring the basic beliefs.
In their research on the consequences of child abuse, Weismoore and
Esposito-Smythers (2010) focus on the role of cognitive distortions and a low self-
esteem. According to Weismoore and Esposito-Smythers, the cognitive biases
self-harm as a way of coping with overwhelming emotions that arise from the
perception of the world as a threatening place. Miller et al. (2017) point out that the
cognitive biases (the negative cognitive triad and cognitive distortions) increase (or
decrease) the effects of dating violence. The negative cognitive triad is defined as
the negative views of oneself, of the world, and the future. The cognitive distortions
abstraction. Romens et al. (2009) consider cognitive distortions as the basis for
cognitive vulnerability that leads to the risk of suicide. These results are supported
by Wolff et al. (2014).
In psychology, studies of victim personality (see, for example, Aquino & Byron,
2002; Braiker, 2004; Sykes, 1992) connect it with the phenomenon of victim mentality
that evolves within the family system and shapes the idea of oneself and the social
situation. According to Sykes (1992), helplessness and suffering experienced by a
need for compassion, sympathy, revenge and a sense of undeserved resentment.
Aquino and Byron (2002) pointed out the following behavioural tendencies that may
people’s compassion; the exaggeration of harm to oneself in various situations,
658 Olga O. Andronnikova, Sergey I. Kudinov
in relation to oneself; accusing others of creating the situations when victims had to
work hard to compensate for the damage, etc. Thus, the studies of victim mentality
as a manifestation of specific cognitive processes indicate such obvious distortions
consequences or difficulties and helplessness.
Considering cognitive biases characteristic of a person with a victim mentality, it is
the belief that everything that happens to a person is the result of their actions and that
they can protect themselves by following the rules. In their study of the phenomenon of
beliefs in justice, Rubin and Peplau (1973) found that it is characteristic of authoritarian
and conservative people and also leads to a negative assessment of those who, for
whatever reason, are discriminated. In their study of justice attitudes, Harvey and
Callan (2014) also point out the relationship between the low self-esteem and people’s
tendency to perceive negative situations and experiences as natural. Their findings are
supported by the research by Callan et al. (2014), who discovered that in real life the
mediate the relationship between their self-esteem and a variety of self-destructive
thoughts and behaviour (for example, self-deception, thoughts about self-harm). This
means that victim mentality and low self-esteem caused by traumatic experiences
or her unable to overcome the negative attitude on their own. These beliefs will lead
to self-defeating beliefs and behaviours and to specific choices in various situations
deserving good or bad outcomes) determines the types of responses to unhappiness
and, as a result, can shape the trajectory of well-being. This assumption is supported
are also characteristic of people with a high level of victimhood.
While considering the victim’s cognitive attitudes, one cannot ignore the
defined as the attitudes that have no objective grounds and result in strong emotional
responses. Their research methodology is suitable for diagnosing cognitive attitudes
constitutive of victim personality and thus will provide the theoretical framework for
our further analysis.
Unlike the studies cited above, we aim to take a more comprehensive approach
and use as a point of departure the assumption that cognitive biases mediate the
occurrence of negative consequences of life events and engender specific ways
of perceiving the world. The resulting hypothesis to be tested in this study is that
there is a correlation between the level of victimhood and the irrational beliefs that
determine the nature of victim behaviour. We have identified the following cognitive
attitudes related to victim response types and victim mentality: the just-world beliefs,
negative events or damage, the basic beliefs related to learned helplessness and
Changing Societies & Personalities, 2021, Vol. 5, No. 4, pp. 654– 668 659
Materials and Methods
The purpose of this research is to study the cognitive biases in victim thinking. The
victim’s behavioural manifestations that arise as stable models are based on the
cognitive attitudes, which determine the person’s emotional response, thinking and
behaviour in a traumatic situation.
Our study covered a sample of 106 specialists in psychological counselling:
sample was determined by the gender imbalance inherent in the profession). All of
the respondents were Russian. 15% of the respondents had secondary vocational
education; 45% higher education; and 40% were enrolled in Master’s studies. All the
respondents gave their voluntary informed consent to participate in the research.
The research was conducted in 2018 and was divided into several stages.
Within these stages the ideas about the overall design of the study were formed,
the assumptions about possible cognitive characteristics of victim personality were
discussed and substantiated, the research methods were selected and the data
were collected and analysed.
To test the hypothesis, we used a range of methodological and diagnostic tools.
the respondent’s predisposition to certain forms of victim behaviour understood
as a set of behavioural characteristics that increase the likelihood of the person’s
falling victim to an accident, crime or unfortunate circumstances. Since behaviour
is determined by attitudes, we are going to focus on the latter. The methodology
the method’s retest reliability, 0.79.
The second tool was the Victim Mentality Questionnaire (Andronnikova &
and personal beliefs that form the structure of a person’s self-concept. The score
of expert test validity is 0.63; the score of the method’s retest reliability, 0.67.
biases that underlie inappropriate emotional responses and psychogenic disorders.
It contains 40 statements rated on a 7-point scale. The reliability coefficient is 0.77.
The test developed by Albert Ellis as part of rational emotive behaviour therapy
(REBT) and adjusted for the Russian context by Andrey Kameniukin is applied to
investigate cognitive biases (Kameniukin & Kovpak, 2008). Ellis’s test contains
50 questions and 6 scales, 4 of which are the main scales and correspond to 4 groups
660 Olga O. Andronnikova, Sergey I. Kudinov
The study was conducted in accordance with the following procedure.
First, all the respondents completed the Victim Mentality Questionnaire and the
questionnaire results were used to select participants of the focus group while
the respondents with no victim mentality were included into the control group. At
the two independent groups. We conducted comparative analysis (Mann-Whitney
U-test) comparing the results of the groups, by looking at the strength of victim
the correlation between victimhood and cognitive biases was carried out for each
group. The Mann-Whitney and r-Pearson criteria were chosen because the features
are presented on a nonparametric scale, more specifically, on the order scale.
At the first stage of the study, we found that 29% of the respondents manifested
strong signs of victim mentality (31 people). These respondents were included into
the focus group for further research, and the other respondents formed the control
group. We assumed that a person with victim mentality has the corresponding
cognitive victimogenic characteristics that reduce their adaptability and make them
more vulnerable in dangerous situations. For this group, we studied the level of
respondents with victim mentality demonstrate much higher scores on the scale
find themselves in the role of victim in different situations, e.g., in situations that
threaten their life, social status, or health, because they display behavioural
patterns that ultimately make them victims. Comparison of the respondent groups
according to the chosen victim behaviour parameters also showed a significant
people with victim mentality tend to demonstrate aggressive behaviour and end up
in unpleasant or even in health or life-threatening situations. Aggression may take
offensive remarks, mocking comments, etc. In their behaviour, these people
demonstrate irascibility, dominance, predisposition to anger and irritability, low
frustration tolerance and readiness to change the situation violently. Another type
of victimhood responses that prevail among the respondents in this group is related
to their learned helplessness.
some interesting results: we found a difference between the groups of respondents
Changing Societies & Personalities, 2021, Vol. 5, No. 4, pp. 654– 668 661
already encountered neurotic disorders, whereas they possess a limited ability to
control their thoughts. Ellis’s methodology was used to identify the irrational beliefs
that are more characteristic of the respondents with victim mentality.
The correlation analysis in the group of respondents with victim mentality
showed a correlation between the type of victim behaviour, dysfunctional attitudes,
and irrational beliefs (see Tables 1 and 2).
The correlations between victim mentality, dysfunctional attitudes and irrational
beliefs are presented in Table 1.
the level of frustration tolerance; the lower is the level of victim mentality. This result
confirms our assumption that psychological work with victim individuals may target
and the Victim Mentality Questionnaire shows that there is a direct correlation
between the scales manifested in the intensity of dysfunctional attitudes (including
psychopathological neurotic symptoms) in the situation of self-identification as a
Moreover, we found a correlation between the level of dysfunctional attitudes
as a sign of neurotic self-demands, self-criticism and dependence on other people
combined with pronounced dysfunctional attitudes.
The correlations detected through the REBT methodology and the questionnaire
a tendency towards a similar correlation for neurotic self-demandingness that
leads to excessive stress, perfectionism and, finally, aggression. Moreover, there
excessive self-demands lead to increased aggression in interpersonal relationships
logical to suggest that global evaluation mediates the whole personality perception,
which results in a low level of criticality in situation assessment and the inability to
demonstrate an active coping behaviour (learned helplessness). The choice of a
certain victim behaviour type in this case can be mediated by other factors such as the
parenting type or personal characteristics. This question, however, falls outside the
scope of this research and requires further exploration.
that an unreasonably high level of demandingness to others leads to frustration and
auto-aggression as a result of the person’s inability to remake the world.
662 Olga O. Andronnikova, Sergey I. Kudinov
Correlation Analysis of the Data of the Victim Mentality Questionnaire, REBT Test, and Dysfunctional Attitudes Scale
Self-demandingness Low frustration tolerance Global evaluation
Correlation Analysis of the Data of the REBT Test and Questionnaire “Predisposition to Victim Behaviour”
Predisposition to victim behaviour
Global evaluation –0.271
Changing Societies & Personalities, 2021, Vol. 5, No. 4, pp. 654– 668 663
and there is a tendency to have neurotic expectations from others, which supports
the individual’s own infantile aspirations. Uncritical behaviour is associated with
tendencies. Quite predictably, we have also found a correlation between the scales
The analysis of the results and their comparison with the previous research
reveal several important aspects of the cognitive attitude constitutive of a victim’s
on irrational beliefs and is often unable to critically assess the situation. The
victim behaviour, mostly of a defensive type.
self-harming and self-destructive behaviour. Special attention should be paid to such
attitudes as self-demandingness that strongly correlates with the three scales of
victim behaviour (predisposition to addictive and helpless behaviour, predisposition
to hypersocial behaviour and predisposition to aggressive victim behaviour),
and explains how chronic self-dissatisfaction and low self-esteem reinforce the
victim’s behavioural forms and the anticipation of punishment rather than reward.
This explanation is supported by the findings of Wood et al. (2009) on emotional
regulation, self-esteem and social justice. They have identified low self-esteem
and negative emotional states in people who place high demands on themselves
and consider themselves unworthy. Callan et al. (2014) established the correlation
between the negative experience, the subsequent devaluation of an individual and
the formation of self-destructive beliefs and self-destructive behaviour. They proved
that negative life experiences, no matter how random they might be, can lead to
changes in self-esteem and become the basis for victim behaviour.
correlation with the scales of victim behaviour (predisposition to addictive and helpless
behaviour, predisposition to uncritical behaviour, predisposition to aggressive victim
behaviour), which indicates the correlation between low self-esteem and the perception
of unhappiness, which a person sees as resulting from their previous bad deeds. Our
research data confirm Harvey and Callan’s findings (2014) about the connection between
the victim value level and the fairness justification type. They argue that a victim who has
a low social value (a criminal, for example) is considered as a person who deserves
punishment, whereas the one who has a high social value (a good person) is not seen
664 Olga O. Andronnikova, Sergey I. Kudinov
as deserving the misfortunes that have happened to them. This idea is supported
by Callan et al. (2014), who found out that people who are firmly convinced that they
deserve bad things happening to them demonstrate a more pernicious behaviour,
including self-deception, a desire to get a negative assessment from their close people
(2009), the feeling of being unworthy of good things can underlie the types of human
responses to unhappiness and, as a result, can determine the trajectory of well-being
and recovery on condition that a disease is considered as a punishment.
A fixed negative idea of oneself as a person who is incapable of protecting
themselves (learned helplessness), reliance on evaluative biases in perception of
other people, and exaggeration of negative consequences are described in studies
Callan et al., 2014).
Thus, our study confirms the assumption that a victim’s behaviour patterns are
based on their cognitive attitudes, which opens avenue for further research. Therefore,
for people who struggle with the victim mentality. The initial stage of victim mentality
requires us to identify the cognitive attitudes that underlie the person’s disturbed self-
image and low self-esteem. Then, based on the cognitive attitudes identified at the
previous stage, it is necessary to plan the counselling process aimed at building up
cognitive consistency: to reduce the non-adaptive pattern hyper-valence an develop new
response patterns; to work out the victim content of the cognitive patterns, for example,
response flexibility; to create non-victim attitudes and more appropriate behavioural
patterns. Finally, it is necessary to help people with victim mentality form a healthier self-
esteem by means of their consistent immersion into positive self-esteem experiences.
The theoretical analysis of the research on victim behaviour and cognitive features of
victim personality has led us to define new approaches to counselling and therapeutic
supervision of people with victim mentality. Our research findings can be used to
develop new ways to reduce victimhood by correcting the underlying cognitive biases.
We assume that the irrational beliefs can be considered as victimogenic
determinants correlating with both the level of victimhood and an individual’s forms
of victim behaviour. However, this assumption requires further research. In this
study, we showed that a person displaying different types of victim behaviour has a
corresponding set of cognitive distortions.
victimhood level, it is necessary to take into account the existing thinking patterns
and specific cognitive biases characteristic of this or that patient.
The empirical findings of this study confirm the initial hypothesis and indicate
areas for further research on this topic. The research results can be used to develop
measures aimed at preventing and reducing the level of victimhood in patients.
Changing Societies & Personalities, 2021, Vol. 5, No. 4, pp. 654– 668 665
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