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Keywords:

  • belief in a just world;
  • victims;
  • social justice;
  • repressive coping style

Abstract

Researchers suggest that observers of innocent suffering will negatively evaluate the victim as a strategy for maintaining their belief in a just world. We propose an alternative class of strategies and test whether individual differences in repressive coping style predict the type of strategy people will use. In the first two studies, we exposed repressors versus nonrepressors to victims whose suffering should pose a high versus low threat to the need to believe in a just world. Repressors had a greater tendency to positively reappraise the high threat victim's suffering. Nonrepressors had a greater tendency to negatively evaluate the high threat victim. A third study replicated the results for the high threat conditions and suggested that repressors' positive reappraisal is not because of a tendency to minimize suffering. Our research (i) demonstrates a class of strategies for preserving the belief in a just world other than negatively evaluating the victim and (ii) is among the first to examine directly an individual difference predictor of alternative just-world preservation strategies. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.