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Social perception - The Just World Hypothesis

The Just World Hypothesis suggests that noble actions are rewarded and evil deeds punished. It helps rationalize others' fortunes or misfortunes and gives a sense of predictability. However, it's often challenged as the world isn't always fair. People use rational or irrational techniques to make sense of this. The hypothesis tends to over-attribute actions to personal factors, under-recognizing complex situational influences. Created by Arshya Vahabzadeh.

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Video transcript

- [Voiceover] So have you heard of the phrase, "you got what you deserved", "you got what was coming to you", or "you reap what you sow"? These phrases imply that there's always an almost predictable and appropriate result or consequence for our actions. In these cases, a negative action. You got what was coming to you. You did something wrong or inappropriate, and something bad was almost definitely going to happen to you as a result. One of the things that this implies, it implies a hypothesis called, the "Just World Hypothesis". The noble actions that are performed by an individual are always rewarded, while evil acts are always punished. So take for example our colleague, Tom, and here we have the world. The world is obviously not to scale, and Tom normally resides there. I'm gonna draw this arrow, and this arrow represents actions that Tom does onto the world. So the first thing is, what if Tom performed a noble act, he help an old lady cross the road. What would we expect? According to the Just World hypothesis, we would expect a predictable, appropriate, fair consequence. In this example, the consequence of a noble act would be a reward. Now, the opposite may also be true. If our friend performed an evil act unto the world, according to the Just World Hypothesis, he may be punished. What this suggests is that there is some kind of special force, some kind of cosmic justice at play that makes sure that good deeds are rewarded and bad deeds are punished. Many people think in this way. The reason why they may think in this way, is because it helps individuals to really rationalize the good fortune or the misfortune of other people. It helps them in their own mind to explain why other people may be doing very well or very badly. Secondly, it can help individuals feel that they can influence the world in a very predictable manner. It's much easier to plan for the future and engage in goal-driven behavior if I work hard and know I'll get what I want. If I put the effort in, if I put the hours in, if I go to school, if I do the right thing, I'm gonna get rewarded in life. Unfortunately, however, the Just World hypothesis doesn't always hold true, because there are a series of threats to it. People aren't always rewarded for their noble actions. People aren't always punished for their evil deeds. Using the Just World Hypothesis, we may, for example, blame people who are in poverty for being poor. Or we may blame people who are victims of domestic violence for being victims. One of the things we know about the Just World hypothesis is that it's challenged on a daily basis, as we walk around the world. The world simply isn't fair. What we know is that when we see the world isn't fair, when we see good deeds being punished, or evil deeds being rewarded, we need to try and mentally make sense of that. We can do that in a couple of different ways. When this Just World viewpoint is threatened, we can approach it in two different ways. One way we can approach it is to use some rational techniques. We can accept reality, or two, we can try and prevent or correct injustice. We can set up charities, or the legal system, or set up a petition. But another thing that can happen is we can use irrational techniques. And in this case, we may go into denial, refusing to even accept that we've seen a situation or the situation exists. We may also reinterpret the events that we've seen. If we've seen somebody who, you know, is a victim of violence, instead of thinking, "Wow, this person was really hurt, "and that was such a nice person," this really challenges our Just World viewpoint. We may think, we may kind of reinterpret the outcome. We may think "Well, it wasn't that bad, there was "more of a trip or a fall, they weren't really assaulted, "it could have happened to anyone." We can reinterpret the cause. "You know what, it's because they're walking "in a really tough neighborhood, "and that's why they were assaulted." We could reinterpret the character of the victim. "I always thought that she was a really good huan being, "but now I realize that she probably isn't, "she was hanging around the wrong people, "morally, I'm not what kind of person she is, "and that's why these events happened to her." So by reinterpreting events, the outcome, the cause, the character of the victim, we can use these irrational techniques to keep our Just World viewpoint in tact. Now, I want to look at this little blue line at the top of the page, because one of the things that we like to think about is, how do we explain the behavior of other people? Otherwise known as "Attribution Theory". Attribution theory is split up into internal causes, factors related to an individual and the individual person's disposition, and also external causes, factors related to a situation. One of the things we should appreciate about the Just World hypothesis is that it very much seems to over-attribute peoples' actions to personal or dispositional factors, and under-recognizes the complex situational factors that may be at play. For example, if we see somebody that's, if we see somebody that's very poor, we may think, you know, these are personal failings, this is down to them not taking responsibility for their own actions, rather than recognizing the complex social and situation and environmental pressures that may have been placed upon them.