Distributive and Procedural Justice
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Distributive and Procedural Justice

Research and Social Applications

Kjell Törnblom, Riël Vermunt

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eBook - ePub

Distributive and Procedural Justice

Research and Social Applications

Kjell Törnblom, Riël Vermunt

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This interdisciplinary and cross-national volume brings together theory and research by prominent scholars within the areas of distributive and procedural justice, not only featuring work within each area separately, as is commonly done, but also showing how combinations of the two justice orientations might operate to affect justice judgments and guide behaviour. Chapters cover various levels of analysis, from intra-personal to interpersonal to group and societal levels. The volume is divided into four sections: distributive justice, procedural justice, distributive and procedural justice, and methodological issues. Each section is subdivided into two parts, basic research and applied research re: current and important societal issues. Each chapter contains an overview of theoretical and empirical research on a particular topic. The volume is designed for use on courses in social psychology, psychology, sociology, political philosophy, and law.

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Distributive Justice

Chapter 1
The Reciprocal Relationship between Affect and Perceptions of Fairness

Elizabeth Mullen
Northwestern University, USA

The Reciprocal Relationship between Affect and Perceptions of Fairness

Current theories of justice focus on how variations in outcomes (i.e., distributive justice), procedures (i.e., procedural justice) and interpersonal treatment (i.e., interactional justice) influence people’s perceptions of fairness (for reviews see Brockner and Wiesenfeld, 1996; Colquitt et al., 2001; Cropanzano et al., 2001). Although affect was a core component of early theories of distributive justice (e.g., equity theory), affect has largely been ignored in current justice theorizing (for an exception see Van den Bos, 2003). Moreover, when affect emerges as a theoretical construct, it is typically viewed as one of a number of possible consequences, rather than a potential cause, of people’s perceptions of fairness (e.g., Brockner and Wiesenfeld, 1996; for reviews see Cropanzano and Greenberg, 1997; Cropanzano et al., 2001). The lack of attention given to affective influences on people’s perceptions of fairness is surprising given that a) most philosophers (e.g., Solomon, 1990, 1994) and laypeople (e.g., Bies, 2001; Lupfer et al., 2000; Mikula, 1986, 1987; Mikula, Scherer and Athenstaedt, 1998) describe emotions such as anger and resentment as core components of their experiences of an injustice and b) considerable evidence exists that affective states can exert an influence on a wide range of dependent variables such as people’s behavior, memory, information processing and attitudes (see Forgas, 1995, 2000, for reviews).
In this chapter, I outline how justice theorizing and research can be improved by incorporating affect. Consistent with other researchers, I will use the term affect to refer to a superordinate category that includes both moods and discrete emotions (Forgas, 2000). Moods refer to the more general, low intensity, diffuse affective states, such as feeling good or bad; whereas emotions are more specific feeling states (e.g., anger, sadness) that are tied to a specific eliciting target or event and are typically of higher intensity and shorter duration than moods (Forgas, 2000). Also, I will differentiate between incidental affect (affect that is unrelated to the focal event) and integral affect (affect that is elicited in response to the focal event; Bodenhausen, 1993), and I will discuss the influences of each type of affect on people’s perceptions of fairness. I will argue that it is crucial to consider how people’s integral affective reactions to events influence their perceptions of fairness.
This chapter is organized into four sections. In the first section, I review research that suggests that affect and perceptions of fairness are closely related. In the second section, I propose an Affective Model of Justice Reasoning (AMJR) that makes predictions about how integral affect influences people’s perceptions of fairness. In particular, I argue that affect and perceptions of justice should be considered to have a reciprocal relationship. Moreover, I argue that people may only spontaneously reason about fairness when they experience negative affect in response to a negative event. In the third section, I review theoretical and empirical evidence supporting the notion that affect can be a causal factor in people’s justice reasoning. In the final section, I outline the implications of the AMJR on how we study and theorize about people’s perceptions of fairness and fairness reasoning, and suggest directions for future research.

Affect and Perceptions of Fairness

Beginning with equity theory in the 1960s, justice researchers traditionally have viewed affect as a consequence rather than a cause of people’s justice judgments (Homans, 1961; Adams, 1965). For example, equity theory predicts that people evaluate the ratio of their inputs and outputs with the input/output ratio of a relevant comparison other when making their fairness judgments (Adams, 1965). Equal ratios lead to perceptions of fairness and satisfaction, whereas unequal ratios lead to perceptions of unfairness and emotional distress. Specifically, when people are under-benefited they are predicted to experience anger, whereas when people are over-benefited they are predicted to experience guilt. Moreover, the negative affect generated in response to an inequity is hypothesized to motivate people to take action to reduce the inequity.
Similarly, research on relative deprivation theory (Stouffer et al., 1949) has demonstrated that when people receive outcomes that are less than they desired, they experience negative affect (e.g., anger, resentment) that, in turn, motivates them to take corrective action (e.g., Crosby, 1976; for reviews see Olson, Hafer and Zanna, 1986; Olson and Hafer, 1996; Walker and Smith, 2002). In sum, some of the earliest work on distributive justice suggests that there is a strong link between perceptions of injustice and negative emotional reactions, and that negative emotional reactions are an important impetus for action.
Consistent with early work on equity and relative deprivation theories, qualitative research has demonstrated that people report experiencing an injustice to be an emotionally laden experience (Mikula, 1986, 1987; Bies, 1987, 2001; Mikula, Scherer and Athenstaedt, 1998; Bies and Tripp, 2001). For example, when participants were asked to report an event in which they had been unjustly treated by another person and then to describe their thoughts and feelings, they reported feeling (in order of decreasing frequency): a) anger, rage, and indignation, b) disappointment, c) surprise, d) physical symptoms of arousal and stress, and e) helplessness and depression (Mikula, 1986, 1987). Similarly, when asked to recall and describe situations that produced various discrete emotions (e.g., anger, sadness), people reported that perceptions of injustice were intimately involved in the experience of anger, disgust, sadness, fear, guilt and shame (Mikula, Scherer and Athenstaedt, 1998). Taken together, this research suggests that fairness and affect are intimately related, but does not firmly establish a causal direction between affect and fairness (i.e., affect and fairness may have a reciprocal influence on one another).
Finally, more recent laboratory research has revealed that variations in positive and negative features of outcomes and procedures are associated with people’s discrete emotional reactions (Weiss, Suckow and Cropanzano, 1999; Cropanzano et al., 2000; Krehbiel and Cropanzano, 2000). In a series of studies, Cropanzano and his colleagues found that anger and frustration consistently were highest when people received an unfavorable outcome due to a procedure that was biased against them. In contrast, guilt and anxiety were highest when people received a favorable outcome due to a procedure that was biased in their favor (Weiss, Suckow and Cropanzano, 1999; Krehbiel and Cropanzano, 2000; see Stecher, 1995 for related work). Although Cropanzano and his colleagues suggest that variations in procedural and outcome fairness influence people’s discrete emotional reactions, an alternative interpretation of this work is that variations in positive and negative features of outcomes and procedures influence people’s discrete emotional reactions that, in turn, influence their perceptions of fairness. That is, positive and negative events could arouse different emotions that, in turn, shape people’s assessments of whether something is fair or unfair.
In sum, research indicates that negative emotional reactions are associated with perceptions of unfairness (e.g., Adams, 1965; Mark, 1985; Weiss, Suckow and Cropanzano, 1999; Cropanzano et al., 2000), and people’s negative affective reactions can at times motivate corrective action (e.g., Mark, 1985; Foster and Rusbult, 1999). Although these results normally are interpreted as evidence that perceptions of fairness or unfairness lead to positive or negative affect, respectively, existing research is unable to exclude the alternative explanation that initial affective reactions lead to perceptions of fairness or unfairness. Researchers typically argue that fairness judgments lead to affective reactions (rather than the converse) because they assume that fairness judgments are cognitively based. That is, a person reasons about the relevant information, forms a judgment that events were fair or unfair, and then feels anger or satisfaction (Adams, 1965; Kohlberg, 1969). However, I argue that people’s affective reactions to outcomes or interpersonal treatment might be more primary than their fairness judgments (e.g., Zajonc, 1980; Haidt, 2001). Given that people’s affective reactions can occur relatively quickly with little conscious cognitive processing (e.g., Lazarus, 1991), it seems unreasonable to assume that people’s affective reactions only come into play after forming their fairness judgments. That is, there may be times when people’s affective reactions to events occur before their more carefully reasoned fairness judgments, particularly in domains that are highly involving to participants. Thus, instead of regarding affect merely as a consequence of people’s justice judgments, a more fruitful approach would entail incorporating the dynamic role of affect in people’s perceptions of fairness. Specifically, justice theorizing could be greatly enhanced by considering how emotions elicited during the course of a justice-related encounter influence people’s perceptions of fairness (cf. Scher and Heise, 1993). Therefore, in the next section, I outline an AMJR that posits a reciprocal relationship between affect and perceptions of fairness.

The Affective Model of Justice Reasoning

People often report justice-related events to be emotionally involving. Therefore, one could argue that emotions that arise during the course of a justice-related encounter have the power to influence people’s perceptions of fairness and how they decide whether events were fair or unfair.
Figure 1.1 depicts the AMJR that posits an important role for integral affect in how people reason about fairness. In particular, the model predicts that people’s initial appraisals of an event lead to their affective reactions and then their affective reactions influence whether and how they think about fairness. Moreover, the model predicts that people’s fairness judgments then further refine their emotional reactions and appraisals of the event.
In particular, the AMJR predicts that people’s concerns about fairness are shaped largely by their negative affective reactions to negative events (see Figure 1.1). Taylor (1991) defines a negative event as “one that has the potential or actual ability to create adverse outcomes for the individual” (p. 67). Negative events, such as seeing a valued employee fired (or being that employee), lead to negative affect that, in turn, prompts people’s concern with fairness. The type of information processing that occurs in response to a negative event is hypothesized to vary as a function of the discrete emotion that is elicited. In particular, people who experience anger (a negative emotion associated with appraisals of certainty; Lazarus, 1991) are predicted to engage in motivated processing of information in search for evidence that events were unfair. That is, angry people should seek out information that is consistent with the conclusion that events were unfair and they should engage in biased processing of information (e.g., interpreting ambiguous procedural information as unfair). In contrast, people who experience sadness or disappointment (negative emotions associated with appraisals of uncertainty; Lazarus, 1991) are predicted to engage in more substantive information processing in an effort to understand the implications of the event and how it occurred. However, more careful processing does not imply that all information will be interpreted as being consistent with one’s affective state. Thus, clear evidence of the fairness of the decision-making procedures after receiving an unfavorable outcome should mitigate the ill effects of the unfavorable outcome (e.g., see Lind and Tyler, 1988; Brockner and Wiesenfeld, 1996, 2005, for reviews). However, more ambiguous procedural information should be interpreted in affective consistent ways (Bower, 1981; Forgas, 1995). Thus, when people engage in more substantive processing in response to a negative or unfavorable outcome, they should conclude that an event was unfair when procedural information is ambiguous or negative, but not when procedural information is clearly positive. Moreover, the model predicts that people’s judgments about the fairness of the event should also influence their original interpretations of the event and their affective reactions to the event. Thus, the model posits a reciprocal relationship between affect and perceptions of (un)fairness.
Figure 1.1 An Affective Model of Justice Reasoning
In contrast, when people appraise events to be positive and experience positive emotions, those positive emotions serve as a signal to people that all is right in their environment that, in turn, limits any motivation to engage in systematic fairness reasoning (e.g., Bless and Schwarz, 1999; Bless, 2000). Thus, events that lead to neutral or positive affect are not predicted to spontaneously prompt people’s concerns with fairness (see also Scher and Heise, 1993; Rutte and Messick, 1995). If people are asked to provide a fairness judgment (e.g., in the context of a laboratory experiment), people will engage in heuristic or relatively shallow processing of information and be likely to conclude that events were fair. It is important to note, however, that positive emotions that are associated with appraisals of uncertainty (e.g., surprise) may be likely to lead to more information processing than positive emotions associated with appraisals of certainty (e.g., joy), yet the AMJR predicts that this additional processing will likely not include fairness reasoning.1
Some empirical evidence supports the notion that affect and perceptions of fairness are reciprocally related (Grote and Clark, 2001). For example, Grote and Clark (2001) conducted a longitudinal study of married couples’ a) satisfaction with their marriage and b) perceptions of fairness in their marriage as they made the transition to first parenthood. Consistent with equity theory, the authors found that perceived unfairness in the division of household tasks predicted marital distress. However, the authors also found evidence that marital distress induced by the birth of a first child predicted later perceptions of unfairness. In other words, first parents demonstrated evidence of a cyclical process whereby perceived unfairness led to marital distress that, in turn, heightened the perceived unfairness. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that people’s appraisal of events lead to affective reactions that, in turn, influence their perceptions of fairness and appraisals of the event.
Moreover, other research supports the notion that integral affect influences people’s perceptions of fairness (e.g., Haidt, 2001; Mullen and Skitka, 2006). Consistent with the notion that people’s affective reactions can guide their fairness judgments and reasoning, research has found that discrete emotions function either as a source of moral judgment (Haidt, Koller and Dias, 1993; Wheatley and Haidt, 2005) or as predictors of moral judgment (Rozin, Lowery, Imada, and Haidt, 1999). For example, Haidt’s (2001) social intuitionist model argues that people often make moral judgments quickly and intuitively on the basis of their gut-level reactions, and that moral reasoning only comes into play when people are asked to justify their conclusions or when their intuitions conflict and thus prompt more careful reasoning. Thus, people’s intuitions and emotions are a significant driving force in their moral judgments. Similarly, neuropsychological research suggests that people generate affect in conjunction with moral judgment and that these affective states subsequently guide moral judgment and choice (Damasio, 1994; Greene and Haidt, 2002). For example, people’s solutions to moral dilemmas vary as a function of the degree to which they are emotionally involved in the moral dilemma (Greene et al., 2001).
Finally, recent research on the role of people’s moral convictions in fairness reasoning has found that outcomes that threaten people’s core moral values lead people to experience anger and moral outrage that, in turn, leads them to devalue the fairness of the procedures and the outcome (Skitka, 2002; Mullen and Skitka, 2006). That is, when people are angered by outcomes that violate their moral standards they conclude that both the outcome and the procedures were unfair. In contrast, when outcomes support moral standards, people do not experience anger and consequently rate the outcome and procedures to be fair (Mullen and Skitka, 2006).
Taken together, a variety of evidence supports the hypothesis t...

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