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Scope of Justice

Justice Without Borders: The Influence Of Psychological Distance And Construal Level On Moral Exclusion

How much should a person's specific features (race, religion, nationality) influence their right to justice? And when are people better or worse at applying justice equally to all individuals? In this research, we predicted that the more perspective (or, as it's known, psychological distance) people had on a situation, the better they would be at applying justice principles equally. This research shows that the best way to be fair is to take a step back from the situation. 

In one experiment, we told participants about a bank robbery. According to condition, we showed participants a hypothetical lineup of the bank robbery. In one condition, it was a homogenous lineup. In the other, it was heterogeneous. But these differences were simply differences in appearance. So people's punishment should not have varied according to which person was getting punished. 

 
Participants either saw a homogeneous lineup or a heterogeneous one, according to condition. 

Participants either saw a homogeneous lineup or a heterogeneous one, according to condition. 

 

In addition, we enacted a mindset manipulation, getting people to think abstractly or concretely. For example, to get people to think abstractly, we asked them a series of questions: "What is a car an example of?" To get them to think concretely, we asked, "What is an example of a car." We asked them about 40 of these questions in both conditions. 

Next, we asked participants how much each person should be punished. The results showed that, while people in a concrete, "low-level" mindset showed a lot of variability in their punishments according to whether the lineup was homogenous or heterogeneous, people a high-level mindset showed less variability in their punishments, showing the same amount regardless of the heterogeneity of the lineup. 

These results show that taking a step back and thinking big-picture can help people be more egalitarian in their punishment of different people.