Review of Philosophy and Psychology

, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp 659–674 | Cite as

Equality, Efficiency, and Sufficiency: Responding to Multiple Parameters of Distributive Justice During Charitable Distribution

  • Colin J. Palmer
  • Bryan Paton
  • Linda Barclay
  • Jakob Hohwy


Distributive justice decision making tends to require a trade off between different valued outcomes. The present study tracked computer mouse cursor movements in a forced-choice paradigm to examine for tension between different parameters of distributive justice during the decision-making process. Participants chose between set meal distributions, to third parties, that maximised either equality (the evenness of the distribution) or efficiency (the total number of meals distributed). Across different formulations of these dilemmas, responding was consistent with the notion that individuals tend to base decisions in part on the magnitude of these parameters. In addition, dilemmas associated with inconsistent responding across the sample tended to elicit the greatest spatial deviation of the cursor, potentially reflecting dilemma difficulty. One interpretation of these results is that individuals value equality and efficiency in such a way that moral dilemmas are resolved by comparing the perceived value of these qualitatively different parameters, consistent with a value pluralistic framework of decision making. A post-hoc analysis indicated that individuals also incorporated sufficiency concerns during distributive justice decision making. The results are discussed in relation to political philosophy.


Distributive Justice Response Alternative Resource Distribution Efficient Option Mouse Cursor 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This work was supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery grant (DP 0988514). The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Supplementary material

13164_2013_157_MOESM1_ESM.doc (120 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 119 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Colin J. Palmer
    • 1
  • Bryan Paton
    • 1
    • 2
  • Linda Barclay
    • 3
  • Jakob Hohwy
    • 1
  1. 1.Cognition & Philosophy Lab, Philosophy Department, School of Philosophical, Historical and International StudiesMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia
  2. 2.School of Psychology & PsychiatryMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia
  3. 3.Philosophy Department, School of Philosophical, Historical and International StudiesMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia

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