Doctor of Philosophy
Olson, James M.
The Justice Motive has traditionally been conceptualized as a homeostatic, prevention-focused motivation, but attempts to measure individual differences in the Justice Motive (i.e., the Belief in a Just World) have not treated it as one. The measurement of a motivation requires accounting for both the current state and the goal state, but traditional measurement techniques have relied solely on beliefs about how just the world currently is (i.e., the current state). This has resulted in two major issues in the literature. First is the assumption that everyone who reports believing in a just world has reached that belief because of the same motivation. The second issue is that measurements of the Belief in a Just World have demonstrated only a small relation with the Justice Motive. The present research was designed to address these issues by introducing a second, complementary scale called the Prescriptive Belief in a Just World Scale, which measures beliefs about how just the world should be (i.e., the goal state), to be used in conjunction with the traditional scale, which we now refer to as the Descriptive Belief in a Just World Scale. Across seven studies, we found evidence that the Descriptive and Prescriptive Belief in a Just World Scales are independent and that we can use them to detect significant differences in a number of justice-related variables, judgments of the injustice of specific events, and the willingness to engage in behaviours prototypical of a strong Justice Motive which would be undetectable without the inclusion of our second scale. Taken together, our results suggest that using the Descriptive and Prescriptive Belief in a Just World Scales concurrently allows us to better understand variation in the strength of the Justice Motive.
Summary for Lay Audience
The Justice Motive is the motivation to believe that the world is generally just. Put another way, it is the need to believe that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. However, not everyone’s motivation is equally strong.
Psychologists have traditionally tried to measure differences in the strength of this motivation by asking people whether they believe the world is just, and inferring that anyone who believes the world is just has a strong motive to believe. The problem is that understanding the strength of a motive requires understanding the gap between where someone is (the current state) and where someone wishes to be (the goal state). For example, if you asked someone if they were hungry, you would not be able to infer whether they are generally a hungry person from their answer without knowing how long it had been since they last ate. Similarly, we need to understand variations in how just people believe the world should be (the goal state), along with their beliefs about how just the world is (the current state), in order to properly assess differences in the strength of the motivation to believe the world is just.
To do this, we introduced the Prescriptive Belief in a Just World Scale, which measures beliefs about how just the world should be, to be used along with the traditional Descriptive Beliefs. This allows us to account for the gap between the current state and goal state of an individual’s just world beliefs. Using the two scales, we found novel results regarding the different sets of beliefs that individuals can hold while reporting high and low Descriptive Beliefs in a Just World, dependant on whether they were high or low in Prescriptive Beliefs. We found evidence that these individuals do not seem to utilize the major components of the Justice Motive in the same way. In summary, we were able to show that using both Descriptive and Prescriptive scales gives us a deeper understanding of the ways people vary in the strength of their Justice Motive.
Armstrong, Joel, "Descriptive and Prescriptive Belief in a Just World" (2019). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 6319.
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