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Cross-Disciplinary Conversations: A Psychological Perspective on Justice Research with Non-human Animals

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Social Justice Research has devoted two recent issues to the topic of inequity responses in non-human animals. The goal of this paper is to provide some commentary from the perspective of psychological theory and research on justice and fairness in humans. In an attempt to build greater cross-disciplinary sharing of ideas and insights, I briefly review the major insights from (a) contemporary research on questions of fairness and justice with non-human primates and how this corpus of knowledge can inform the on-going study of these issues in psychology and related disciplines, and (b) 50-plus years of research on justice and fairness in psychology and related disciplines, and how it can inform contemporary research efforts with non-human animals going forward. The spotlight behavioral economists and justice research with non-human animals places on the primary role of distributive justice is suggestive that it may be time for a renaissance of interest in this topic in psychology and related disciplines. The focus of psychological research on topics such as boundary conditions on equity as key justice concern (e.g., alternative distributive norms such as equality and need), as a well as attention given to procedural, interactional, retributive, and restorative justice, is suggestive that research with non-human animals should broaden its horizons to study alternative conceptions of justice and fairness.

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    Although some make distinctions between these constructs, I am using the terms justice and fairness interchangeably and broadly.


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The preparation of this comment was facilitated by a grant from the National Science Foundation (#1139869).

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Correspondence to Linda J. Skitka.

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Skitka, L.J. Cross-Disciplinary Conversations: A Psychological Perspective on Justice Research with Non-human Animals. Soc Just Res 25, 327–335 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11211-012-0161-z

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  • Distributive justice
  • Equity
  • Inequity aversion