Monday, August 12, 2019

Just World Hypothesis

The just world hypothesis, according to Lerner and Miller (1978), “states that people have a need to believe that their environment is a just and orderly place where people usually get what they deserve (p. 1030).”

In Lerner’s view, the just world hypothesis focuses on the people who observe others' suffering and interpret the observation in a way that avoids believing that they too could suffer, or at least suffer unjustly. To cope with the discomfort, observers may act to ensure justice happens for the victims or conclude that the victims suffer because of something they have done.

In experimental research, the information provided to participants who observed suffering influenced the attitude of the participants toward the person who was the victim.
If there is evidence that what happened to the victim is not likely to affect the observer then, a victim derogation effect (blame the victim) may be seen.

An empathy effect may reduce victim-blaming as seen in a study when participants were asked to imagine themselves in the victim’s situation.

Religiosity may be a factor.
   In one study, those who were more highly religious did not respond differently to victims in different suffering contexts as did those low on religiosity, which may suggest that the highly religious believe justice will prevail—if not in this world, then in the world to come. 
   The biblical story of Job appears to represent a struggle to understand why bad things happen to good people. In the New Testament, the disciples asked Jesus to explain a man's blindness by telling them who sinned--the man or his parents. Jesus did not endorse either cause (John 9: 1-12). The story reveals an enduring belief among some religious adherents that people suffer because of personal or family sin.

A few scales have been developed to assess just world beliefs. One example is the Just World Belief Scale by Vondehaar & Carmody (2015).

Other terms
Other terms for the just world hypothesis include just world theory, just world fallacy, and the just world effect. A related phrase is blaming the victim.

   Just world theory may explain why people blame the victims of sexual and other forms of physical abuse and various crimes. Rape victims and victims of sexual harassment have been accused of having a responsible role in the harm done to them. People who suffer from an  illness or the effects of substance use disorders may be viewed as suffering as the result of poor choices. The theory may also explain the lack of concern for harm done to prisoners as if they deserve whatever they suffer in prison. 


           Furnham A. & Boston, N. (1996) Theories of rape and the just world, Psychology, Crime & Law, 2:3, 211-229, DOI: 10.1080/10683169608409779 

Gravelin, C. R., Biernat, M., & Bucher, C. E. (2019). Blaming the Victim of Acquaintance Rape: Individual, Situational, and Sociocultural Factors. Frontiers in psychology9, 2422. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02422

Lerner, M. J., & Miller, D. T. (1978). Just world research and the attribution process: Looking back and ahead. Psychological Bulletin, 85(5), 1030–1051.

           Vonderhaar, Rebecca L., & Carmody, Dianne Cyr. (2015). There are no “innocent victims”: The influence of just world beliefs and prior victimization on rape myth acceptance. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 30(10), 1615-1632. doi:


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