The Illusion of Unfairness

Author: ORCID icon
Furrer, Remy, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Wilson, Timothy, AS-Psychology, University of Virginia
Clore, Gerald, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia

Valuing control over their lives, people struggle with the notion that their fate is often determined by random events. Despite such aversion to randomness, for millennia, human beings have resorted to using random processes for the purpose of distributing benefits and burdens amongst themselves in a fair manner. In this experiment, I explore the notion that people are so attuned to maintaining control over their fate that they may see unfairness in random negative outcomes where there is objectively none. I propose this illusion of unfairness occurs when people receive a negative outcome as the result of an uncontrollable random process having the appearance of being controllable - even if the procedure used is objectively fair. To test our hypothesis, I designed a paradigm to induce an illusory sense of control within an objectively fair procedure. The paradigm places a participant (P) and a confederate (C) in a setting in which both will receive either a negative or positive outcome. Either P, or C flips a coin to determine who gets which outcome – an objectively fair procedure. Based on the “Illusion of Unfairness” hypothesis, I found that when C flipped the coin and P received a negative outcome, P found the random process to be less fair, reported feeling more negative affect, and found the other person (C) more responsible for the random outcome. Furthermore, an exploratory moderation analysis suggests that people’s belief in a just world may significantly increase the illusory responsibility ascribed to C, following C’s coin flip.

MA (Master of Arts)
Fairness, Randomness, Responsibility, Control, Social Psychology, Distributive Justice, Procedural Justice
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