Social Justice Research

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 433–456 | Cite as

The Consequences of Victim Physical Attractiveness on Reactions to Injustice: The Role of Observers’ Belief in a Just World

  • Mitchell J. Callan
  • Nathaniel G. Powell
  • John H. Ellard


Two studies explored Dion and Dion’s (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 775–780, 1987) suggestion that the belief in a just world may contribute to the “beauty is good” stereotype. In Study 1, we found that participants rated the death of a woman as more tragic and unfair when she was physically attractive than less attractive. Participants were also more punitive towards agents of harm when the victim was physically attractive. In Study 2, we varied the extent to which a woman suffered from a house fire and asked participants to later recognize the woman’s picture among several choices varying in physical attractiveness. Participants who learned that the woman suffered a great deal remembered her to be less physically attractive than when her suffering was minimal. The results are discussed in terms of how the justice motive contributes to the evaluative and moral importance attached to physical attractiveness.


Physical attractiveness Belief in a just world Punishment reactions Victim derogation Reconstructive memory 



We thank Melvin Lerner and anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on previous drafts of this manuscript. This research was partially funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council doctoral fellowship granted to the first author.


  1. Baron, R. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1173–1182.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Becker, D. V., Kenrick, D. T., Guerin, S., & Maner, J. K. (2005). Concentrating on beauty: Sexual selection and sociospatial memory. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31, 1643–1652.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Benson, P. L., Karabenick, S. A., & Lerner, R. M. (1976). Pretty pleases: The effects of physical attractiveness, race, and sex on receiving help. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 12, 409–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berkowitz, L. (1972). Social norms, feelings, and other factors affecting helping behavior and altruism. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology, Vol. 6 (pp. 63–108). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  5. Callan, M. J., & Ellard, J. H. (2004a). Recalling lottery winnings: The effect of winner deservingness. Paper presented at the 10th International Society for Justice Research Social Justice Conference, Regina, Saskatchewan.Google Scholar
  6. Callan, M. J., & Ellard, J. H. (2004b). Justice motivation and implicit observer evaluations of an innocent victim. Paper presented at the 10th International Society for Justice Research Social Justice Conference, Regina, SK, Canada.Google Scholar
  7. Callan, M. J., Ellard, J. H., & Nicol, J. E. (2006). The belief in a just world and immanent justice reasoning in adults. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 1646–1658.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Carlsmith, K. M., Darley, J. M., & Robinson, P. H. (2002). Why do we punish? Deterrence and just deserts as motives for punishment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 284–299.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chasteen, A. L., & Madey, S. F. (2003). Belief in a just world and the perceived injustice of dying young or old. Omega-Journal of Death and Dying, 47, 313–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Christianson, S.-A. (1992). Emotional stress and eyewitness memory. Psychological Bulletin, 112, 284–309.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Conway, M., & Ross, M. (1984). Getting what you want by revising what you had. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47, 738–748.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Correia, I., Vala, J., & Aguiar, P. (2007). Victim’s innocence, social categorization, and the threat to the belief in a just world. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43, 31–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. DePalma, M. T., Madey, S. F., Tillman, T. C., & Wheeler, J. (1999). Patient responsibility and belief in a just world affect helping. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 21, 131–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dion, K. K. (1986). Stereotyping based on physical attractiveness: Issues and conceptual perspectives. In C. P. Herman, M. P. Zanna, & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Appearance, stigma, and social behavior: The Ontario symposium on personality and social psychology, Vol. 3 (pp 7–21). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  15. Dion, K., Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. (1972). What is beautiful is good. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24, 285–290.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dion, K. L., & Dion, K. K. (1987). Belief in a just world and physical attractiveness stereotyping. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 775–780.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Eagly, A. H., Ashmore, R. D., Makhijani, M. G., & Longo, L. C. (1991). What is beautiful is good: A meta-analytic review of research on the physical attractiveness stereotype. Psychological Bulletin, 110, 109–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Erian, M., Lin, C., Patel, N., Neal, A., & Geiselman, R. (1998). Juror verdicts a function of victim and defendant attractiveness in sexual assault cases. The American Journal of Forensic Psychology, 16, 25–40.Google Scholar
  19. Field, H. S. (1979). Rape trials and jurors’ decisions: A psycholegal analysis of the effects of victim, defendant, and case characteristics. Law and Human Behaviour, 3, 261–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Feingold, A. (1992). Good-looking people are not what we think. Psychological Bulletin, 111, 304–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gangestad, S. W., & Scheyd, G. J. (2005). The evolution of human physical attractiveness. Annual Review of Anthropology, 34, 523–548.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gerdes, E. P., Dammann, E. J., & Heilig, K. E. (1988). Perceptions of rape victims and assailants: Effects of physical attractiveness, acquaintance, and subject gender. Sex Roles, 19, 141–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Goldberg, J. H., Lerner, J. S., & Tetlock, P. E. (1999). Rage and reason: The psychology of the intuitive prosecutor. European Journal of Social Psychology, 29, 781–795.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gross, A. E., & Crofton, C. (1977). What is good is beautiful. Sociometry, 40, 85–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hafer, C. L. (2000). Do innocent victims threaten the belief in a just world? Evidence from a modified Stroop task. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 165–173.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hafer, C. L., & Bègue, L. (2005). Experimental research on just world theory: Problems, developments, and future challenges. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 128–166.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hassin, R., & Trope, Y. (2000). Facing faces: Studies on the cognitive aspects of physiognomy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 837–852.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hirt, E. R., Lynn, S. J., Payne, D. G., Krackow, E., & McCrea, S. M. (1999). Expectancies and memory: Inferring the past from what must have been. In I. Kirsch (Ed.), How expectancies shape experience (pp 93–124). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  29. Hosada, M., Stone-Romero, E. F., & Coats, G. (2003). The effects of physical attractiveness on job-related outcomes: A meta-analysis of experimental studies. Personnel Psychology, 56, 431–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Jacobson, M. B. (1981). Effects of victim’s and defendant’s physical attractiveness on subjects’ judgments in a rape case. Sex Roles, 7, 247–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kanekar, S., & Nazareth, A. M. (1988). Attributed rape victim’s fault as a function of her attractiveness, physical hurt, and emotional disturbance. Social Behaviour, 3, 37–40.Google Scholar
  32. Kay, A. C., & Jost, J. T. (2003). Complementary justice: Effects of “poor but happy” and “poor but honest” sterotype exemplars on system justification and implicit activation of the justice motive. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 823–837.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kensinger, E. A., Garoff-Eaton, R. J., & Schacter, D. L. (2006). Memory for specific visual details can be enhanced by negative arousing content. Journal of Memory and Language, 54, 99–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kern, R. P., Libkuman, T. M., Otani, H., & Holmes, K. (2005). Emotional stimuli, divided attention, and memory. Emotion, 5, 408–417.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kunda, Z. (1990). The case for motivated reasoning. Psychological Bulletin, 108, 480–498.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kurdahi Badr Zahr, L., & Abdallah, B. (2001). Physical attractiveness of premature infants affects outcome at discharge from the NICU. Infant Behavior & Development, 24, 129–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Langlois, J. H., Kalakanis, L., Rubenstein, A. J., Larson, A., Hallam, M., & Smoot, M. (2000). Maxims or myths of beauty? A meta-analytic and theoretical review. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 390–423.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lerner, M. J. (1965). Evaluation of performance as a function of performer’s reward and attractiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1, 355–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lerner, M. J. (1980). The belief in a just world: A fundamental delusion. New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  40. Lerner, M. J. (1998). The two forms of the belief in a just world: Some thoughts on why and how people care about justice. In L. Montada & M. J. Lerner (Eds.), Responses to victimization and belief in a just world (pp 246–269). New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  41. Lerner, M. J. (2003). The justice motive: Where psychologists found it, how they lost it, and why they may not find it again. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 7, 388–399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lerner, M. J., & Goldberg, J. H. (1999). When do decent people blame victims? The differing effects of the explicit/rational and implicit/experiential cognitive systems. In S. Chaiken & Y. Trope (Eds.), Dual-process theories in social psychology (pp 627–640). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  43. Lerner, M. J., & Miller, D. T. (1978). Just world research and the attribution process: Looking back and ahead. Psychological Bulletin, 85, 1030–1051.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lerner, M. J., & Simmons, C. H. (1966). Observer’s reaction to the “innocent victim”: Compassion or rejection? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 203–210.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Levine, L. J., & Pizarro, D. A. (2004). Emotion and memory research: A grumpy overview. Social Cognition, 22, 530–554.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Loftus, E. F., & Palmer, J. C. (1974). Reconstruction of automobile destruction: An example of the interaction between language and memory. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 13, 585–589.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Lonsway, K.A., & Fitzgerald, L. F. (1994). Rape myths: In review. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 18, 133–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. McDonald, H. E., & Hirt, E. R. (1997). When expectancy meets desire: Motivational effects in reconstructive memory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 5–23.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Miller, D.T., & Vidmar, N. (1981). The role of justice in punishment reactions: A social psychological analysis. In M. J. Lerner & S. Lerner (Eds.), The justice motive in social behavior (pp 145–172). New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  50. Molden, D. C., & Higgins, E. T. (2005). Motivated thinking. In K. J. Holyoak & R. G. Morrison (Eds.), Handbook of thinking and reasoning (pp 295–320). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Moskowitz, G. B. (2001). Preconscious control and compensatory cognition. In G. B. Moscowitz (Ed.), Cognitive social psychology: The Princeton symposium on the legacy and future of social cognition (pp 333–358). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  52. Moskowitz, G. B., Li, P., & Kirk, E. R. (2004). The implicit volition model: On the preconscious regulation of temporarily adopted goals. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology, Vol. 9, (pp 317–413). New York: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  53. Nisbett, R. E., & Wilson, T. D. (1977). The halo effect: Evidence for unconscious alteration of judgments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35, 250–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Olson, I. R., & Marshuetz, C. (2005). Facial attractiveness is appraised in a glance. Emotion, 5, 498–502.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Rhodes, G. (2006). The evolutionary psychology of facial beauty. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 199–226.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Rowatt, W. C., Cunningham, M. R., & Druen, P. B. (1999). Lying to get a date: The effect of facial physical attractiveness on willing to deceive prospective dating partners. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 16, 211–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Rubin, Z., & Peplau, L. A. (1975). Who believes in a just world? The Journal of Social Issues, 31, 65–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Sanitioso, R., Kunda, Z., & Fong, G. T. (1990). Motivated recruitment of autobiographical memory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 229–241.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Simmons, C. H., & Lerner, M. J. (1968). Altruism as a search for justice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9, 216–225.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Snyder, M., & Uranowitz, S. W. (1978). Reconstructing the past: Some cognitive consequences of person perception. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 941–950.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Sobel, M.E. (1982). Asymptotic confidence intervals for indirect effects in structural equation models. In S. Leinhardt (Ed.), Sociological methodology (pp. 290–312). Washington, DC: American Sociological Association.Google Scholar
  62. Spencer, S. J., Zanna, M. P., & Fong, G. T. (2005). Establishing a causal chain: Why experiments are often more effective than mediational analyses in examining psychological processes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 845–851.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Storbeck, J., & Clore, G. L. (2005). With sadness comes accuracy; with happiness, false memory. Psychological Science, 16, 785–791.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Thornton, B., & Ryckman, R. M. (1983). The influence of a rape victim’s physical attractiveness on observers’ attributions of responsibility. Human Relations, 36, 549–562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. van Leeuwen, M. L., & Macrae, C. N. (2004). Is beautiful always good? Implicit benefits of facial attractiveness. Social Cognition, 22, 637–649.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Veenvliet, S. G., & Paunonen, S. V. (2005). Person perception based on rape-victim testimony. Deviant Behavior, 26, 209–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Weiner, B. (1995). Judgments of responsibility. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  68. Whatley, M. A. (1996). Victim characteristics influencing attributions of responsibility to rape victims: A meta-analysis. Aggressive and Violent Behavior, 1, 81–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Wilson, M., & Daly, M. (2003). Do pretty woman inspire men to discount the future? Biology Letters (Proc. R. Soc. L.; Suppl), 271, S177–S179.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mitchell J. Callan
    • 1
  • Nathaniel G. Powell
    • 1
  • John H. Ellard
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

Personalised recommendations