Fairness Perceptions Under Uncertainty: A Theoretical Explanation



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In my thesis, I consider how legitimacy and social identity processes affect whether third-party observers view a punishment as fair when there is some uncertainty about whether a rule was broken. I argue that third-party observers will view a punishment as more fair when the rule-enforcer is legitimized and less fair when the observers share a social identity with the punished. I also posit an interaction between the two, suspecting that the perceived legitimacy of the rule-enforcer will attenuate the effect of having a shared social identity with the punished. Finally, I argue that fairness perceptions will affect the emotional and likely behavioral responses of the observers. I test my theoretical argument using data from a vignette experiment. The experiment manipulated both the legitimacy of the rule-enforcer (endorsed, authorized, both, or neither) and the social identity with the punished (either shared or not). Results show no support for my social identity hypotheses, but strong support for the effects of legitimacy on fairness perceptions. Also, status perceptions had an unexpected effect on both fairness perceptions and likelihood of behavioral intervention, with participants who perceived themselves as higher status than the punished viewing the punishment as more fair while also expressing a greater willingness to intervene on the punished individual’s behalf if they shared a social identity with that individual. I close with a discussion of the implications of this work.



Social Identity, Legitimacy, Fairness perceptions, Emotions, Behavioral Responses, Justice, Status, Work