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Expectations of fairness: The influence of pessimism on psychological and psychophysiological reactions to injustice

Erick L Hill, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This study explored the commonly held belief that people expect fair treatment. Greenberg (1984) states that individuals expect fair decision processes and outcomes. The influence of individual differences on expectations for fairness was examined. Undergraduate students (N = 128) were randomly assigned to a 2 (Fair v. Unfair Process) x 2 (High v. Low Award) between groups design, with approximately half of the students being classified as optimists and half as pessimists. ^ Participants were asked to rate perceived fairness and satisfaction. Participants also completed measures of information seeking and a causal attribution measure to reveal their explanatory reasons for the treatment they received. Participants provided pre and post feedback on current mood state and cortisol level. Cortisol, a stress hormone, was assessed by gathering saliva samples from each participant. ^ The primary hypothesis proposed a three-way interaction between process fairness, outcome fairness, and personality. The three-way interaction was predicted to mirror the fair process effect for optimists. The fair process effect for pessimists was predicted to be attenuated due to their lower expectation for fair treatment. The pattern of findings were not statistically significant. Results did reveal a strong correlation between personality and expectation for fair treatment. There was no significant difference in pre and posttest mood scores or cortisol levels between optimists and pessimists. Pessimists did show an increase in information seeking following fair treatment. Finally, expectation confirmation significantly contributed to the prediction of perceived satisfaction, beyond the effects of process and outcome fairness. ^ The discussion addresses reasons for the significant and nonsignificant findings. Attention is given to the implications of these results for further research. Finally, the discussion places the study within a framework of expectations. Specifically, the model of expectancies proposed by Olson, Roese, and Zanna (1996) is used to assess the contribution of this research. Implications for organizations are discussed, concerning the fair treatment of employees, in light of the impact personality disposition has upon perceived fairness and satisfaction. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Social|Business Administration, Management|Psychology, Physiological

Recommended Citation

Hill, Erick L, "Expectations of fairness: The influence of pessimism on psychological and psychophysiological reactions to injustice" (2000). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9967375.