When Fair Procedures Don’t Work: a Self-Threat Model of Procedural Justice
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Why do individuals sometimes claim a decision is unfair when the decision process is considered fair by socially accepted standards? Past research on the interaction pattern between procedural and distributive justice generally supports the fair process effect, the idea that fair procedures ameliorate negative reactions to unfavorable decision outcomes. However, some research suggests that self-relevant variables play a role in altering the interaction pattern. Using elements of attribution theory, specifically external self-serving bias and self-threat, with group identification, we develop a new self-threat model of procedural justice. Specifically, we hypothesize that when individuals experience self-threat (threat to the ego or self-concept) as a result of a decision outcome, the tendency to protect the self by engaging in externalized attributions may result in lower perceptions of fairness and organizational justice regardless of whether the decision process is fair. Results indicate that group identification is negatively related to external self-serving bias, but is not significantly related to perceptions of self-threat. However, external self-serving bias and perceptions of self-threat are negatively related to perceptions of procedural justice. The results may help explain why individuals who have low group identification or who feel undervalued by society, such as minorities or people with disabilities, may be more likely to react negatively to an unfavorable outcome determined by fair procedures.