Get access

When Unfair Treatment Leads to Anger: The Effects of Other People's Emotions and Ambiguous Unfair Procedures1


  • 1

    This research was supported by a research grant from The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO, Grant No. 016-005.019). Parts of this article were written when the first author was a visiting research fellow at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. The visit to Harvard was also sponsored by the Royal Dutch Society of Sciences (KNAW).

David De Cremer, Department of Social Psychology, Center of Justice and Social Decision Making (JuST;, Tilburg University, P.O. Box 90153, 5000 LE Tilburg, The Netherlands. E-mail:


The present research examines how emotions of a third party interacting with an authority who has treated him or her unfairly affect one's feelings of anger toward the authority as a function of the ambiguity of the unfair treatment. Across a scenario and a laboratory study, it was found that when participants did not receive voice and it was unclear whether this was the result of an authority's unfair intentions, participants were less angry when the third party expressed shame, rather than anger, toward the same enacting authority. A second laboratory study replicated this effect, but now by showing that one's feelings of anger (in the case of ambiguity) were lower when the other person expressed guilt, relative to anger.