Fair World Belief

Since the earliest periods of life, humans have sought to make sense of the world and make it safe according to their perceptions. To survive and protect themselves, they aim to establish a sense of security. To ensure this sense of security, they construct certain assumptions. These assumptions help them control their environment and make sense of ongoing developments (Coşgun, 2010).

May 28, 2024 - 19:14
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Fair World Belief

People feel the need to believe in assumptions about the world to overcome negative, fearful, and painful situations and to achieve their desires. In this context, the "Belief in a Just World" theory, first proposed by Lerner (1965), posits that the world is a good and reliable place and that people get what they deserve, whether good or bad. This belief in a just world can be linked to the principle of justice in the "Assumptive Worlds Model" proposed by Janoff-Bulman (1989). According to the "Assumptive Worlds Model," individuals' assumptions are divided into three categories: the goodness of the world, the meaningfulness of the world, and self-worth (Janoff-Bulman, 1989).

The assumption about whether the world is perceived as good or bad is referred to as the goodness of the world, while thoughts about who will experience good or bad events relate to the meaningfulness of the world (Tüfekçi, 2011). The meaningfulness of the world assumption is further divided into three principles: justice, controllability, and randomness (Coşgun, 2010).

People tend to establish a cause-effect relationship between their actions and the events that happen to them, with the principle of justice forming the cornerstone of this tendency. In this context, the principle of justice is fundamental to the Belief in a Just World theory. The second principle, controllability, involves the assumption that individuals can establish their world order through their actions. According to the third and final principle, randomness, some events may happen to people by chance. While the principle of randomness is contrary to justice and controllability, if a person believes in randomness—that events occur purely by chance and not for any particular reason—they do not see justice and controllability as determinants. A person who believes in randomness thinks that negative events cannot be prevented and that nothing can be done about it (Janoff-Bulman, 1989).

The self-worth assumption is the individual's positive perception of themselves. When individuals have a high level of positive self-perception, they feel secure (Coşgun, 2010). Another concept related to self-worth is self-control, which refers to whether the individual has done what is necessary to deal with the outcome or tried to prevent the negative situation.

In the Belief in a Just World theory, people believe that the world is a just, reliable, and orderly place where every action has a consequence. With this belief, people can create a safe and comfortable space for themselves, regulate daily life events, and make sense of their experiences in a way that is consistent with their cognition. Individuals try to reconcile their beliefs and emotions to achieve behavioral consistency and create beliefs and knowledge related to the problem. Emotions related to the problem influence beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors regarding the problem (Kaya, 2020). However, when unexpected, painful, and distressing traumatic events occur, or when individuals are repeatedly exposed to injustice and unfairness, changes may occur in their belief system. Following a traumatic event, some individuals may develop more negative beliefs about themselves and the world. The Belief in a Just World is examined in two ways: Personal and General Just World Beliefs. The General Just World Belief asks, "How just is the world?" while the Personal Just World Belief asks, "How just is the world for me?" (Kılınç and Torun, 2010).

Lazarus, who conducted studies in the field of stress, mentions a two-stage process in evaluating an event. First, the event is relevant to the individual's goals. If there is a relevance between the event and the person's goals, it is then examined whether the event is compatible with the goals. If the event is compatible with the goal, the individual develops positive feelings; if not, the individual develops negative feelings. The second stage involves evaluating whether the person has the power to cope with the event and includes coping mechanisms. If the individual believes they have the power to overcome the event, they may be motivated by it. The discomfort caused by the event is due to the individual's lack of belief in their ability to cope with it. In this case, the individual experiences stress and discomfort (Gençöz, 1998).

Traumatic events and injustices create a type of stress in individuals, and to cope with this stress, individuals try various coping mechanisms. In this context, people tend to blame-devalue the victim and legitimize the injustice. To maintain their belief that the world is a just place, individuals tend to blame, devalue the victim, and believe that the incident is exaggerated. By thinking that the victim deserved what happened to them, they continue to maintain their belief that the world is just and reliable. If this belief is not maintained and collapses, individuals' adaptation to their environment will decrease, and they will feel helpless and struggle to continue their daily lives (Lerner, 1980).

According to Heider (1958), a pioneer in social psychology regarding the belief in a just world, this belief carries a cognitive tendency. Heider explains this with the balance principle, suggesting that there is a relationship between goodness and happiness and evil and punishment. When a situation occurs, the other condition is automatically anticipated to maintain this balance (Göregenli, 2003). Rokeach (1971) also states that encountering unjust outcomes threatens the individual's belief system related to justice, leading to cognitive conflicts, and individuals resort to psychological strategies to resolve these conflicts (Göregenli, 2003). Another theory, Festinger's (1957) Cognitive Dissonance Theory, argues that when there is a discrepancy between expected and observed situations, this discrepancy creates emotional tension, and individuals are inclined to change the undesirable situation to eliminate this tension (Göregenli, 2003). In this context, individuals believe they will ensure justice by blaming, devaluing, or legitimizing what happened to the victim to resolve the discrepancy or tension and maintain balance. If this belief is not achieved, individuals tend to feel helpless and anxious.

In childhood, the foundation of the belief in a just world is the belief that wrongdoings are punished and good behaviors are rewarded (Kaya, 2020). Children believe that bad behavior has consequences not only from their parents but also from a higher power in nature (Kaya, 2020). Piaget's concept of immediate justice is seen in children up to seven or eight years old (Kaya, 2020). As children grow and gain life experiences, Piaget's concept of immediate justice matures into the belief in a just world.

In a longitudinal study examining the concept of a just world in children, a group of young children was read stories. The children expressed a preference for stories with happy endings, regardless of what the protagonist deserved. Two years later, in a repeated study with the same children, they advocated that bad people should meet bad ends (Jose and Brewer, 1999).


Coşgun, E. (2010). Suça yönelen ergenlerde çocukluk döneminde örseleyici yaşantılara maruz kalma düzeyi ile adil dünya inancı arasındaki ilişkinin incelenmesi. (Yüksek lisans tezi). Maltepe Üniversitesi/ Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü, İstanbul.

Gençöz, F. (1998). Uyum psikolojisi. Kriz Dergisi, 6, 1-8.

Göregenli, M. (2003). Şiddet, kötü muamele ve işkenceye ilişkin değerlendirmeler, tutumlar ve deneyimler. İşkencenin Önlenmesinde Hukukçuların Rolü Projesi Raporu. İzmir.

Janoff-Bulman, R. (1989). Assumptive worlds and the stress of traumatic events: applications of the schema construct. Social Cognition, 7 (2), 113–136.

Jose, P. E., Brewer, W. F. (1990). Early grade school children’s liking of script and suspense story structures. J Read Behav, 22, 355-372.

Kaya, B. (2020). Aile, çalışma ve sosyal hizmetler bakanlığına bağlı kuruluşlarda çalışanlarda ikincil travmatik stres ve adil dünya inancının incelenmesi. (Yüksek lisans tezi). Çağ Üniversitesi/Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü, Mersin.

Kılıç, Ö. (2019). Onkoloji hastalarının travmatik bilişleri ve dünyaya ilişkin varsayımları. (Yayımlanmamış yüksek lisans tezi). Ordu Üniversitesi/Sağlık Bilimleri Entitüsü, Ordu.

Lerner, M. J. (1980). The Belief in a Just World: A Fundamental Delusion. New York, Plenum Press. Tüfekçi, S. (2011). Trafik kazası geçirmiş kişilerin dünyaya ilişkin varsayımları, travma sonrası stres belirtileri ve travma sonrası gelişim düzeylerinin incelenmesi. (Yüksek lisans tezi). Maltepe

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