Forming Fairness Judgments: Why People Favor Unfair Information

  • Bernhard StreicherEmail author
  • Dieter Frey
  • Silvia Osswald


People value fair conditions and show positive reactions towards fairness, whereas they oppose unfair conditions. Fairness is especially important to people in situations without immediate control. This, for example, is the case when people are dealing with authorities such as supervisors or the police. Amazingly, there is hardly any research on how people search for information in order to judge the fairness of an authority. In our research, we explored how information search differs after fair versus unfair events, and what motivates people to search for different fairness-relevant information. Overall, we found that people both in fair and unfair situations are more interested in unfairness-relevant information than fairness-relevant information. However, the search for information on the fairness of the authority is motivated by two different goals: Fairness is not taken for granted and people aim to find out whether an unknown authority is really trustworthy in order to avoid costly misjudgments (i.e., accuracy motives). In contrast, unfairness seems to be convincing and people are motivated to confirm their first impression (i.e., defense motives). These results have important practical implications: People seem to have a general bias by focusing on unfair information. Unfortunately, therefore, in conflict situations (a) it becomes more difficult to convey fair information and (b) the importance of single, less relevant unfair information is likely to be overestimated by conflict partners. Both effects make conflict resolutions more difficult. Accordingly, in particular in situations where the interaction partners do not know each other and have not established a stable and trustworthy relationship (e.g., a first encounter with an authority), it is very import to avoid any impression of unfairness.


Information Search Cognitive Dissonance Procedural Fairness Confirmation Bias Social Identity Theory 
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.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bernhard Streicher
    • 1
    Email author
  • Dieter Frey
    • 1
  • Silvia Osswald
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Social PsychologyLudwig-Maximilians-University MunichMünchenGermany
  2. 2.Central Psychological Service of the Bavarian PoliceMünchenGermany

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