Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Victoria Esses


This research examined Just World Theory (Lerner, 1970) and dehumanization in the context of refugee claimants. Across three studies, threat to belief in a just world (BJW) was manipulated, participants were provided multiple strategies to restore justice, and individual differences in just world beliefs were measured. In Study One, participants read about a refugee persecuted for either political affiliation or race. Stronger believers in a just world were more likely to assign personal responsibility and a larger scholarship to the refugee than weaker believers. Participants viewed the political refugee as more responsible for his status and participants in the high threat condition (irrespective of refugee target) were more likely to admit the refugee into university. Study Two sought to extend these findings by exploring the relation between belief in a just world and dehumanization of refugees, in addition to realistic funding threat. Stronger believers in a just world were more likely to view a refugee as responsible for his status when told he would receive external funding. Stronger believers in a just world also dehumanized the refugee more than weaker believers. Those who believed a scholarship would be externally funded reported that the refugee was more responsible for his refugee status than those who thought their university was providing funding. The goal of Study Three was to compare reactions to refugees versus immigrants. Overall, the immigrant was treated more negatively than the refugee. Further, stronger believers in a just world were more likely to dehumanize both immigrants and refugees than were weaker believers. These findings suggest that dehumanization may help stronger believers preserve their belief in a just world. The justice threat manipulations were generally ineffective; thus, it is difficult to draw a clear link between justice threat and participants’ responses to refugees and immigrants. Implications for just world theory and perceptions of refugees and immigrants are discussed.