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Just-world phenomenon

From Academic Kids

The just-world phenomenon, also called the just-world effect or just-world hypothesis, refers to the tendency for people to believe the world is "just" and so therefore people "get what they deserve."

One study gave women what appeared to be painful electric shocks while working on a difficult memory problem. Those who observed the experiment appeared to blame the victim for her fate, praised the experiment, and rated her as being less physically attractive than those who had seen her but not the experiment.

In another study, subjects were told two versions of a story about an interaction between a woman and a man. Both variations were exactly the same, except at the very end the man raped the woman in one and in the other he proposed marriage. In both conditions, subjects viewed the woman's (identical) actions as inevitably leading to the (very different) results.

Studies have shown that those who believe in a "just world" may be more likely to believe that rape victims must have behaved seductively, battered wives must have deserved their beatings, that sick people must have caused their own illness, or that the poor deserve their lot.

Closely related cognitive biases include hindsight bias, the illusion of control, the halo effect, self-serving bias and the fundamental attribution error. The effect could also be explained in terms of cognitive dissonance theory.

The just-world phenomenon was first theorized by Melvin Lerner.

See also

References

  • Lerner, M. (1980). The Belief in a Just World. New York: Plenum Press.
  • Lerner, M. and Simmons, C. H. (1966). Observer’s Reaction to the "Innocent Victim": Compassion or Rejection? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, v. 2.

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