When deserving translates into causing: The effect of cognitive load on immanent justice reasoning

Mitchell J. Callan, Robbie M. Sutton, Cristina Dovale

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44 Citations (SciVal)


In immanent justice reasoning, negative events are attributed to some prior moral failing, even in the absence of a physically plausible causal link between them. Drawing on just-world theory, we examined immanent justice reasoning as an intuitive, deservingness-guided form of causal judgment. Participants were exposed to a story about a man who either did or did not cheat on his wife and who was subsequently injured in a car accident. Under either high or low cognitive load, participants rated the extent to which they believed the accident was the result of the man's prior moral failings. The results showed that participants causally attributed the man's accident to his prior conduct when he was immoral (vs. not immoral) more strongly under high cognitive load. Further, moderated mediation analyses showed that perceived deservingness of the accident mediated the effect of the man's prior immoral behavior on immanent justice attributions more strongly under high cognitive load. These results offer support for the notion that immanent justice attributions reflect an automatic tendency to assume that people get what they deserve.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1097-1100
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010


  • Cognitive load
  • Deservingness
  • Immanent justice
  • Just-world theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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