Who Believes in a Just World?


Department of Psychology and Social Relations, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138.


Research with the Just World Scale has indicated that many people believe that the world is a place where good people are rewarded and bad people are punished. Believers in a just world have been found to be more likely than nonbelievers to admire fortunate people and to derogate victims, thus permitting the believers to maintain the perception that people in fact get what they deserve. Other studies have shed light on the antecedents, correlates, and social consequences of the belief in a just world. Everyone may have a version of the just world belief in early childhood (Piaget's “immanent justice”), but some people outgrow the belief quickly and some apparently never do. Believers in a just world have been found to be more religious, more authoritarian, and more oriented toward the internal control of reinforcements than nonbelievers. They are also more likely to admire political leaders and existing social institutions, and to have negative attitudes toward underprivileged groups. Suggestions for modifying the belief in a just world are offered, focusing on the socialization techniques employed by parents, teachers, religious institutions, and the mass media.