People who believe in justice also see a victim's life as more meaningful after tragedy

December 14, 2010

Seeing bad things happen to other people is scary. One way to respond to this is to blame the victim--to look for some reason why it happened to them. But there's another common response, according to a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The researchers found that people who believe in justice in the world also believe that a tragedy gives the victim's life more meaning.

"A lot of the time when people see someone else suffering, and helping them isn't an option, people will instead justify the fact that something is negative is happening to them. Because it's scary for something negative to happen to a good person--that means it could happen to you," says Joanna E. Anderson of the University of Waterloo, who cowrote the study with her colleagues Aaron C. Kay and Gráinne M. Fitzsimons. Anderson suspected that there was another way to feel better about someone else's tragic experience: to believe that the negative experience is balanced by positive outcomes.

In an experiment, volunteers read a scenario in which someone was injured playing soccer in high school. The soccer player ends up with a broken leg, has back problems, undergoes multiple surgeries, and can't go to school with their peers. Everything is resolved by the end of high school; in the scenario, the person is now happily married and is thinking about starting a family. Each volunteer also filled out a survey that determined how strong their "justice motive" is--their need to see the world as just or fair. Then they were asked how much meaning they think the person's life has.

People who had a strong need to see the world as just were more likely to say that a victim's life is meaningful as opposed to the life of a person who hasn't experienced a tragedy. This also held true in another experiment, in which the researchers manipulated the participants' feelings about justice by having them read an article about how CEOs make a lot of money, but are hired because of personal connections rather than merit. The people who'd read about undeserving CEOs had a stronger justice motive and were more likely to see the injured soccer player's later life as meaningful.

The results show that people who have a strong need to believe the world is fair may be motivated to find positive outcomes--"silver linings"--from tragedies. "I think that this is probably a more positive reaction" than blaming the victim, Anderson says. "But I do think that either reaction shows that you're focusing so much on yourself and your own need to make sure that this can't happen to you that you're not really thinking about the other person at all."
-end-
The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article "In Search of the Silver Lining: The Justice Motive Fosters Perceptions of Benefits in the Later Lives of Tragedy Victims" and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Keri Chiodo at 202-293-9300 or kchiodo@psychologicalscience.org.

Association for Psychological Science

Related Justice Articles from Brightsurf:

Excess deaths from COVID-19, community bereavement, restorative justice for communities of color
Ways the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded existing health, human rights and economic disparities in communities of color are discussed in this Viewpoint, which also proposes a program of restorative justice in response, comprising investments in education and housing, reforms in lending practices and criminal justice, and more.

Fair justice systems need open data access
Northwestern University researchers are developing an A.I. platform that provides users with access to the information and insights hidden inside federal court records, regardless of their data and analytic skills.

COVID-19: Impact on environmental justice
COVID-19 is like a heat-seeking missile that targets the most vulnerable.

Environmental justice defenders victims of violence and murder
Grassroots movements halt environmental degradation in up to 27% of environmental conflicts worldwide, according to a study by the ICTA-UAB.

Women in criminal justice system less likely to receive treatment for opioid use
Pregnant women involved in the criminal justice system are disproportionately not receiving medications for opioid use disorder, as compared to their peers, according to a Vanderbilt-led study published today in PLOS Medicine.

Centring sexual and reproductive health and justice in the global COVID-19 response
The Lancet commentary 'Centring sexual and reproductive health and justice in the global COVID-19 response' highlights the detrimental impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic response on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

Prosecutors' race, class bias may not drive criminal justice disparities
Years of observational studies suggest that prosecutors' race and class biases are among the primary drivers for disparities in criminal justice.

Action needed to improve poor health and disadvantage in the youth justice system
In the first global review, researchers have examined the health of detained adolescents from 245 peer-reviewed journal articles and review publications.

How the justice system can affect physical, mental health
New research finds that being convicted of a crime is associated with a decline in one's physical health, even if the conviction doesn't lead to jail time.

Is childhood criminal justice exposure associated with risk of poor adult mental health?
A childhood history of both personal involvement in the juvenile justice system and parental incarceration was associated with a greater likelihood of depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder in young adulthood compared to peers without those experiences in this observational study.

Read More: Justice News and Justice Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.