The effects of justice motivation on memory for self- and other-relevant events

Mitchell J. Callan, Aaron C. Kay, Nicolas Davidenko, John H. Ellard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (SciVal)


We examined whether people might distort and selectively remember the past in ways that enable them to sustain a belief in a just world (BJW; Lerner, M. J. (1980). The belief in a just world: A fundamental delusion. New York: Plenum Press). In Study 1, recall of a lottery prize reflected participants' justice concerns, such that the average lottery amount recalled was lowest when a "bad" versus "good" person won. In Study 2, an unrelated experience of just world threat (versus affirmation) enhanced biased recall of the lottery prize when the winner was undeserving. In Study 3, participants who experienced a fortuitous bad break selectively remembered more bad deeds from their recent past, whereas participants who experienced a good break selectively remembered more good deeds. Study 4 demonstrates that such selective memory biases specifically serve to portray chance outcomes as more fair. Taken together, these findings offer support for the notion that reconstructing and selectively recalling the past can serve to sustain a BJW.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)614-623
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2009


  • Belief in a just world
  • Justice motivation
  • Motivated cognition
  • Motivated memory
  • Reconstructive memory
  • Selective memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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