Social Justice Research

, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 25–42

When Citizens Fight Back: Justice Sensitivity and Resistance to Political Reform

  • Eva Traut-Mattausch
  • Stephanie Guter
  • Mark P. Zanna
  • Eva Jonas
  • Dieter Frey


A considerable number of individuals show resistance to reform, whereas others, although similarly affected, do not react in a resistant way at all. Based on research showing that people differ concerning how sensitive they are toward being a victim of injustice (victim justice sensitivity), we argued that people high in victim justice sensitivity perceive a reform more as an illegitimate limitation to their freedom resulting in more reactance. Consequently, people high in victim justice sensitivity should show more resistance to reform. We conducted three studies to test these assumptions. Our studies revealed that physicians (healthcare reform, Study 1) and students (introduction of tuition fees, Studies 2 and 3) with higher victim justice sensitivity experienced more reactance and thus showed more resistance to reform. The implications of these results for the implementation of political reforms are discussed.


Justice sensitivity Resistance to reform Reactance Victim Beneficiary 


  1. Adams, J. S. (1965). Inequity in social exchange. In L. Berkowith (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (pp. 267–299). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  2. Andreoli, V. A., Worchel, S., & Folger, R. (1974). Implied threat to behavioral freedom. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30(6), 765–771.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arbuckle, J. L. (2005). AMOS 6.0 user’s guide. Chicago: SmallWaters.Google Scholar
  4. 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
  5. Bluen, S. D. (1994). The psychology of strikes. In C. L. Cooper & I. T. Roberston (Eds.), International review of industrial and organizational psychology (pp. 113–145). Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  6. Brehm, J. W. (1966). A theory of psychology reactance. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  7. Brehm, S. S., & Brehm, J. W. (1981). Psychological reactance. A theory of freedom and control. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  8. Cohen-Charash, Y., & Spector, P. E. (2001). The role of justice in organizations: A meta-analysis. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 86, 278–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dalbert, C., Montada, L., & Schmitt, M. (1987). Glaube an eine gerechte Welt als Motiv: Validierungskorrelate zweiter Skalen [Belief in just world: Validation of two scales]. Psychologische Beiträge, 29, 596–615.Google Scholar
  10. Die Presse (2008, May 19). Ärtze drohen mit Praxisschließung während der EM [Physicians threaten with closing their medical practices during the European Football Championship]. Retrieved May 29, 2008 from
  11. Fetchenhauer, D., & Huang, X. (2004). Justice sensitivity and distributive decisions in experimental games. Personality and Individual Differences, 36, 1015–1029.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Focus online (2007, November 20). Streikwelle gegen Reformen [Waves of strike against reforms]. Retrieved May 29, 2008 from
  13. Gollwitzer, M., Schmitt, M., Schalke, R., Maes, J., & Baer, A. (2005). Asymmetrical effects of justice sensitivity: Perspectives on prosocial and antisocial behavior. Social Justice Research, 18(2), 183–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Henion, K. E., & Batsell, R. D. (1976). Marketing of blood donorship, helping behavior, and psychological reactance. In Educators’ ProceedingsAmerican Marketing Association (pp. 652–656).Google Scholar
  15. Kelloway, E. K., Francis, L., Catano, V. M., & Teed, M. (2007). Predicting protest. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 29(1), 13–22.Google Scholar
  16. Klandermans, B. (1997). The social psychology of protest. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  17. Klandermans, B. (2002). How group identification helps to overcome the dilemma of collective action. The American Behavioral Scientist, 45(5), 887–900.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lovas, L., & Wolt, R. (2002). Sensitivity to injustice in the context of some personality traits. Studia Psychologica, 44, 125–131.Google Scholar
  19. Maes, J. (1998). Immanent justice and ultimate justice: Two ways of believing in justice. In L. Montada & M. J. Lerner (Eds.), Responses to victimization and belief in a just world (pp. 9–40). New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  20. Miron, A. M., & Brehm, J. W. (2006). Reactance theory: 40 years later. Zeitschrift für Sozialpsychologie, 1, 9–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Mohiyeddini, C., & Schmitt, M. (1997). Sensitivity to befallen injustice and reactions to unfair treatment in a laboratory situation. Social Justice Research, 10, 333–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Nelson, L. D., & Norton, M. I. (2005). From student to superhero: Situational primes shape future helping. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 41, 423–430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Opp, K. D. (1998). Does antiregime action under communist rule affect political protest after the fall? Results of a panel study in East Germany. The Sociological Quarterly, 39, 189–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Opp, K. D., & Gern, C. (1993). Dissident groups, personal networks, and spontaneous cooperation: The East German revolution of 1989. American Sociological Review, 58, 659–680.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Schmitt, M. (1996). Individual differences in sensitivity to befallen injustice (SBI). Personality and Individual Differences, 21(1), 3–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Schmitt, M., & Dörfler, M. (1999). Procedural injustice at work, justice sensitivity, job satisfaction, and psychosomatic well-being. European Journal of Social Psychology, 29, 443–453.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Schmitt, M., Gollwitzer, M., Maes, J., & Arbach, D. (2005). Justice sensitivity: Assessment and location in the personality space. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 21(3), 202–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Schmitt, M., & Mohiyeddini, C. (1996). Sensitivity to befallen injustice and reactions to a real life disadvantage. Social Justice Research, 9, 223–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Schmitt, M. J., Neumann, R., & Montada, L. (1995). Dispositional sensitivity befallen injustice. Social Justice Research, 8(4), 385–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Spiegel online (2004, August 18). Oscar geht auf die Straße [Oscar be on strike]. Retrieved May 29, 2008 from
  31. Spiegel online (2005, January 3). Hartz-Gegner wollen Agenturen lahm legen [Opponent against the Hartz-low plan to shut down specialist agencies]. Retrieved May 29, 2008 from
  32. The Economist (2007, November 22). The street fights back. Retrieved May 29, 2008 from
  33. Traut-Mattausch, E., Jonas, E., Förg, M., Frey, D., & Heinemann, F. (2008). How should politicians justify reforms to avoid psychological reactance, negative attitudes, and financial dishonesty? Zeitschrift für Psychologie/Journal of Psychology, 216(4), 218–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Weiner, J., & Brehm, J. W. (1966). Buying behavior as a function of verbal and monetary inducements. In J. W. Brehm (Ed.), A theory of psychological reactance (pp. 82–90). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  35. Wicklund, R. A. (1974). Freedom and reactance. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eva Traut-Mattausch
    • 1
  • Stephanie Guter
    • 2
  • Mark P. Zanna
    • 3
  • Eva Jonas
    • 1
  • Dieter Frey
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of SalzburgSalzburgAustria
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MunichMunichGermany
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada

Personalised recommendations