Thursday, November 7, 2019

Processing speed for deservingness-relevant info is greater than deservingness-irrelevant info; the construct of deservingness is central in human social relations, as if we evolved to have embedded gauges that measure justice

Evidence of a Processing Advantage for Deservingness-Relevant Information. Carolyn L. Hafer et al. Social Psychology, October 7, 2019.

Abstract. We investigated processing speed for deservingness-relevant versus deservingness-irrelevant information. Female students read stories involving deserved, undeserved, or neutral outcomes. We recorded participants’ reaction time (RT) in processing the outcomes. We also measured individual differences in “belief in a just world” as a proxy for deservingness schematicity. RTs for deserved and undeserved outcomes were faster than for neutral outcomes, B = −8.45, p = .011, an effect that increased the stronger the belief in a just world (e.g., B = −3.18, p = .006). These findings provide novel evidence that the construct of deservingness is central in human social relations, and suggest both universal and particularistic schemas for deservingness.

Keywords: deservingness, processing speed, reaction time, schema, belief in a just world

RT = reaction time
BJW= belief in a just world

Hypothesis 1 (H1): Deservingness-relevant information will be processed faster than deservingness-irrelevant information.
Hypothesis 2 (H2): As BJW increases, the greater the processing advantage for deservingness-relevant information.


We examined processing speed for deservingness-relevant information. Supporting H1, participants processed deservingness-relevant information faster than deservingness-irrelevant information. This novel finding converges with previous research (e.g., Feather, 1999; Lerner, 1977; Price & Brosnan, 2012) to suggest that people have a concern with deservingness that is deeply ingrained. Supporting H2, the stronger participants’ BJW, the greater the processing advantage for deservingness-relevant information. Thus, deservingness appears to be more central for some individuals.

Affective priming (Fazio, Sanbonmatsu, Powell,& Kardes, 1986) cannot account for our findings. The deserved and neutral outcomes followed a stimulus (i.e., the protagonist’s behavior) of the same valence, whereas the undeserved outcomes involved stimuli (behavior and outcome) with mismatching valences. Yet, RTs to deserved versus undeserved outcomes did not differ (contrary to affective priming predictions). Furthermore, if affective priming were the mechanism, RTs for deserved/undeserved outcomes would not be faster than for neutral outcomes. Our findings have several implications. First, if people rapidly process deservingness-relevant information, they can quickly make judgments and act based on that information. Rapid responses to quickly processed deservingnessrelevant information are not always beneficial. For example, peoplemight automatically dismiss a potential human rights abuse based on quick processing of information implying the individual deserves severe treatment (see Drolet et al., 2016), while failing to consider more appropriate information that takes longer to process.

Second, support for H1 suggests that there is a universal schema, as well as a particularistic schema that is characteristic of people with a strong BJW (see Markus, Hamill, & Sentis, 1987). A universal deservingness schema is consistent with the justice motive theory and evolutionary perspectives noted earlier.

We presume our findings would generalize beyond female university students, given evidence that deservingness is central to people in general (see Hafer, 2011). However, researchers should test our hypotheses with other groups of people.

Unfortunately, our memory items were not designed to test schema-driven recall. Researchers should test whether a strong BJW acts as a schema by biasing memory (see Callan, Kay, Davidenko, & Ellard, 2009), as well as the mechanism underlying deservingness schematicity (e.g., construct accessibility or importance, richness of cognitive structures, etc.; see Ruble & Stangor, 1986). Furthermore, aside from people with a strong BJW, researchers should test whether people with a strong belief that people get what is undeserved are also particularly schematic for deservingness.

In conclusion, we found evidence that people, especially those with a strong BJW, show a processing advantage for deservingness-relevant versus deservingness–irrelevant information. These findings add novel support to the idea that the construct of deservingness is central in human social relations.

Electronic Supplementary Material:
ESM 1. Details on Mixed Models Analyses

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