Social Justice Research

, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 401–414 | Cite as

A New Look at Individual Differences in Perceptions of Unfairness: The Theory of Maximally Unfair Allocations in Multiparty Situations

  • Kimmo ErikssonEmail author
  • Ali Kazemi
  • Kjell Törnblom


Previous research has demonstrated that unfairness judgments of resource allocations become more complex when there are more than two recipients. In order to explain some of this complexity, we propose a set of psychological mechanisms that may underlie four different choices of maximally unfair resource allocations (MUA): Self-Single-Loser, Self-One-Loser-of-Many, Self-Single-Winner, and Self-One-Winner-of-Many. From this psychological theory, several predictions are derived and tested in vignette studies involving a total of 708 participants recruited online using MTurk. As predicted by our theory, (1) choices of MUA where there is a single loser were much more common when the allocated resource was of negative rather than positive valence, and (2) the amount of egoistic bias individuals exhibited when judging the unfairness in receiving a small rather than a large share in a non-extreme multi-party allocation was predicted by their choices of MUA. These findings suggest that an individual’s choice of MUA reveals some generally relevant principles of how unfairness is perceived in multi-party allocations. This opens up new lines of inquiry, especially regarding research on social dilemmas and social value orientation.


Unfairness Distributive justice Inequality Multi-party allocation Egoistic bias 


  1. Eriksson, K., Cownden, D., Ehn, M., & Strimling, P. (2014). ‘Altruistic’ and ‘antisocial’ punishers are one and the same. Review of Behavioral Economics, 1, 1–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Eriksson, K., & Simpson, B. (2011). Perceptions of unfairness in allocations between multiple recipients. Cognitive Psychology, 62, 225–244.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Foa, U. G. (1971). Interpersonal and economic resources. Science, 171, 345–351.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Hegtvedt, K. (2001). When rewards are scarce: Equal or equitable distributions. Social Forces, 66, 183–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Hoffman, M. L. (1976). Empathy, role-taking, guilt, and development of altruistic motives. In T. Lickona (Ed.), Moral development and behavior. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.Google Scholar
  6. Huseman, R. C., Hatfield, J. D., & Miles, E. W. (1987). A new perspective on equity theory: The equity sensitivity construct. The Academy of Management Review, 12, 222–234.Google Scholar
  7. Jasso, G. (1978). On the justice of earnings: A new specification of the justice evaluation function. The American Journal of Sociology, 83, 1398–1419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Kazemi, A., & Törnblom, K. (2008). Social psychology of justice: Origins, central issues, recent developments, and future directions. Nordic Psychology, 60, 209–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Kazemi, A., & Törnblom, K. (2014). Third-party allocation of rewards: The effects of categorization and request for justice. Small Group Research, 45, 435–450.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Kogut, T., & Ritov, I. (2005). The “identified victim” effect: An identified group, or just a single individual? Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 18, 157–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kollock, P. (1998). The anatomy of cooperation. Annual Review of Sociology, 24, 183–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kuziemko, I., Buell, R. W., Reich, T., & Norton, M. I. (2014). Last-place aversion: Evidence and redistributive implications. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 129, 105–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Leary, M. R. (1983). A brief version of the fear of negative evaluation scale. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 9, 371–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Montada, L., Schmitt, M., & Dalbert, C. (1986). Thinking about justice and dealing with one’s own privileges. A study of existential guilt. In H. W. Bierhoff, R. L. Cohen, & J. Greenberg (Eds.), Justice in social relations. New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  15. Ostrom, E., Gardner, R., & Walker, J. (1994). Rules, games, and common-pool resources. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  16. Schmitt, M., Neumann, R., & Montada, L. (1995). Dispositional sensitivity to befallen injustice. Social Justice Research, 8, 385–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Small, D. A., & Loewenstein, G. (2003). Helping the victim or helping a victim: Altruism and identifiability. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 26, 5–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Törnblom, K. Y. (1988). Positive and negative allocations: A typology and a model for conflicting justice principles. In E. Lawler & B. Markovsky (Eds.), Advances in group processes (Vol. 5). Greenwich, Connecticut: Jai Press.Google Scholar
  19. Törnblom, K., & Kazemi, A. (2012). Some conceptual and theoretical issues in resource theory of social exchange. In K. Törnblom & A. Kazemi (Eds.), Handbook of social resource theory: Theoretical extensions, empirical insights, and social applications. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Van Lange, P. A. M. (1999). The pursuit of joint outcomes and equality in outcomes: An integrative model of social value orientation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 337–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Varian, H. (1976). Two problems in the theory of fairness. Journal of Public Economics, 5, 249–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Education, Culture and CommunicationMälardalen UniversityVästeråsSweden
  2. 2.Centre for the Study of Cultural EvolutionStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden
  3. 3.University of SkövdeSkövdeSweden
  4. 4.ETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations