Immanent justice reasoning by spatial proximity

Mitchell J. Callan, Joshua Moreton, Gethin Hughes

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Immanent justice reasoning involves causally attributing someone’s bad outcome to their prior immoral actions. Building on the idea that causality is mentally linked with spatial proximity, we investigated whether such reasoning might lead participants to spatially bind together immoral actions and bad outcomes. Across 4 experiments (N = 553 Mechanical Turk workers), participants positioned sentences describing other people’s bad (vs. good) outcomes closer in space to previous immoral behaviours. This effect was observed both when the position of the initial action remained in a fixed location and when it “chased” the outcome across the screen. Importantly, we also found that this spatial positioning of immoral actions and bad outcomes is mediated by perceived deservingness of the outcome and is not merely due to perceived similarity of events. These findings suggest that perceived deservingness biases the spatial proximity of representations of others’ random bad outcomes and their prior immoral actions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-33
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
Issue number1
Early online date19 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021


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