Table of Contents

What is the Scapegoat theory?

Scapegoat Theory refers to the displacement and channelization of blame, anguish, resentment, and frustration toward the other person. It avoids taking charge of one’s part of responsibilities for meeting the discrepancies.  The one who scapegoats others become accustomed to the frequent blame game and attacks. The burden of rectifying the mistakes and overcoming one’s source of misfortunes is thus subjected to displacement and channelization of frustration toward other people.  This helps the person creating the scapegoat to release their share of frustration and grief. This redirection of negative feelings and emotions toward others gives temporary relief to the scapegoater from the anguish and frustration.

Origin of Scapegoat theory

Scapegoating theory originates from the Book of Leviticus. A goat was sent into the desert carrying the community’s sins. Thus, it means having the sins of others away from the person who committed them. 

When problems occur personally, professionally, locally, or globally and negatively affect someone or a group of people who are emotionally affected by it. (usually with conscious or subconscious negative emotion, self-hatred, guilt, or shame), the theory of scapegoating is the act of blaming others, in that instance, usually people or groups of people to whom the blamer can displace their aggression or shame. Like bullies, they will most likely pick powerless people or those who can’t resist or fight back.

Ways of Scapegoating in Scapegoat Theory:

Scapegoat Theory

Here I’m going to explain the Ways of Scapegoating in Scapegoat Theory:

Role of Ego:

In scapegoating, ego defenses play an essential role. To a more vulnerable person or group,  uncomfortable feelings such as frustration, anger, and shame are displaced or redirected onto another. The scapegoat is discharged and distracts from their negative emotions by using others as scapegoats.

Creation of a Villain:

The villain’s creation indicates the presence of a hero, even if the relationship from both sides is unreal. The need for a more excellent villain is sometimes rooted in the creation of villains. To scapegoat deep-rooted impulses, politicians can cynically exploit the ancient and distract from their inadequacies, thus lessening their burden of blame and responsibility.

Defense Mechanisms:

It is a self-defense mechanism, from Freud when a person displaces himself and blames or puts a burden on others. Their hostility is replaced by people, meaning that the unacceptable targets such as parents or the boss are held on to by the less powerful ones.


The unacceptable feelings or anxieties of one’s own on to the other person; thus, he denies it. Thus, from their illicit desires or fears, they self-protect themselves from it. This mechanism serves as a scapegoat because of its displacement target.

Negative Emotions:

When people are treated relatively poorly, negative emotions are experienced. For example, when a colleague’s work is not great, the person with less salary is satisfied with it, but if the boss is his friend and he is praised, there come negative feelings about the low wage.

Low Power:

The person being scapegoated must be of low power. Otherwise, he may show opposition. For example, if a couple of fights then a woman’s anger bursts out, and she kicks the servant because they can’t argue. Thus, a scapegoated group is a distinct group that can be recognizable. Being unwealthy or of low power leads to being vulnerable to scapegoating.

The Scapegoat Theory in Social Psychology:

Social psychologists explain the tendency to scapegoat with qualifications and clarifications. According to them, the scapegoat is something to displace aggression. For example, if a couple fights for minor misbehavior, the wife may kick her dog. Here the dog is paying the price for the fight and is a scapegoat. The conflict that produced the aggression results in that aggression not being directed toward its real cause but at a third person, i.e. dog. This is because if she did that with her husband, then there will be more arguments, whereas the dog cannot argue in return. 

The Real Threat to the In-group:

To the ingroup, the scapegoat tends to pose a real threat intentionally or unintentionally. For example, lynchings against black people rose dramatically when economic prospects began to drop off for whites. To this increasing number of whites impacted by the economy, African Americans were the more significant threat, and thus in tragic ways, they were punished. When a group is put into a situation in which that group does not find any opportunity, they act as a scapegoat.

Scapegoating Among Children:

Among children, scapegoating is most common. To avoid punishment and to shift blame, the scapegoat. For example, if one brother breaks a vase, he blames the other one for avoiding a penalty. Sometimes hostility is shown by people while condemning others, thus putting tension on others. 

Socioeconomic Standing:

In one’s socioeconomic standing, scapegoating finds a basis. For example, in the period of post-Affirmative Action, the government of the U.S used this program due to the prevailing socio-economic conditions to give better opportunities to black people, and they were blamed by whites who thought that they had stolen their jobs. Here, discrimination takes place, and the anger or frustration was put on the people benefiting from the program instead of the government.

Throughout history scapegoating of one group by another has been used, and there is an issue as to that why another group is harmed incorrectly. Prejudice and violence are prolonged by economic insecurity or poverty. Within society, due to the unequal distribution of resources, those of low socioeconomic status are naturally inclined to become scapegoats for the wealthy minority. Capitalism, as an economic model, is blamed by sociologists.

Example from History:

The Jews with the Nazis. Muslims are scapegoats now. Anything related to terrorism, blame it on the Muslims, right? All presidents are scapegoats. We blame them for failures and bad decisions when it is Congress and the Senate that must approve everything. Most of it is their fault. The Titanic Captain was a scapegoat.

Many blamed him for going too fast and not heeding iceberg warnings. But because it was such a clear night that the light was reflecting off the water and caused optical illusions and the iceberg was unusual for the season, and now these conditions are blamed for the sinking of the ship, and the Captain is cleared. Rats were blamed for the black death and scientists are now blaming gerbils, though it may have been neither.

In short, when people collectively scapegoat other people, it almost says something about their deep-rooted self-hatred or shame.

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