The justice motive: History, theory, and research

John H. Ellard, Annelie Harvey, Mitchell J. Callan

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter or section

34 Citations (SciVal)


Why do people care about justice? This chapter addresses the question from the point of view of a body of theory and research that has examined the motivational commitment people have to the assumptive belief that the world is just. Inspired by Melvin J. Lerner’s exploration of the need to believe in a just world, justice motive research, as it has come to be known, identifies deservingness as the cornerstone of people’s justice concerns. In a just world, people get what they deserve. The need to believe in a just world gives rise to a variety of behaviors and psychological processes with both constructive and destructive consequences. The search for justice makes people do altruistic acts, but also victim blaming. It can also distort recall of the past, shape expectations for the future, and even lead people to think that fortuitous harms were somehow caused by previous misdeeds. Fifty years of justice motive research has yielded significant insights into the variety of ways the justice motive appears in people’s lives. The chapter also discusses the social cognitive origins of the justice motive, current issues and trends including the role of the justice motive in people’s reactions to their own fates, construal of everyday experience, and the relation between justice motive processes and widely used measures of just world beliefs.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Social Justice Theory and Research
EditorsClara Sabbagh, Manfred Schmitt
PublisherSpringer New York
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781493932160
ISBN (Print)9781493932153
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


  • Belief in a just world
  • Justice motive


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