The Two Forms of Belief in a Just World

Some Thoughts on Why and How People Care about Justice
  • Melvin J. Lerner
Part of the Critical Issues in Social Justice book series (CISJ)


The discussion that follows begins with the observation that the dominant view among contemporary investigators is that most adults have outgrown the childish belief they live in a just world (BJW). These BJW investigators have also assumed that one can assess the vestigial remnants of that belief as a stable meaningful individual difference variable. Beginning with the question of why this view of BJW has prevailed over the initial theory and research that portrayed BJW as a “fundamental delusion,” I will raise and attempt to address several basic issues. Among these are whether, in fact, adults give up their BJW or merely employ various ways to maintain it in the face of contradicting evidence, and to what extent BJW actually influences people’s lives. After reviewing relevant evidence and contemporary theories, I will offer evidence to the effect that people actually maintain and express the effects of two forms of BJW: One involves consciously held conventional rules of morality and rational social judgments, while the second is characterized by preconscious processes with primitive rules of blaming and automatic emotional consequences. Recognizing the two forms of BJW raises questions concerning what can and cannot be profitably studied with questionnaire research. Clearly, the highly creative and insightful contributions reported in the chapters in this volume are among the best examples of what can be learned. Finally, I will conclude with the scientific and personal implications of failing to recognize the differential properties and influences of these two forms of BJW.


Moral Judgment Fairy Tale Conventional Rule Innocent Victim Stable Individual Difference 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melvin J. Lerner
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada

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