When Fair Procedures Don’t Work: a Self-Threat Model of Procedural Justice



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.


Procedural justice Group identification Attribution Self-threat Self-serving bias 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sam Houston State UniversityHuntsvilleUSA

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