When exactly is something fair or unfair? Whether it’s about taxation, wages and allowances, government benefits, crime and punishment, or almost anything else, we just can’t seem to agree.
The reason, as it turns out, is that our intuition in these matters is shaped not only by culture and upbringing, but also by our individual nature. Fairness is not an objective standard, but a subjective cocktail of what sociologists call norms; and people accept or reject these norms in accordance with unique personality traits. These are the results of a new study by Milan Andreevich, Luc Smillie, Daniel Feuerrigel, William Turner, Simon Laham and Stefan Bode of the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences in Australia.
For psychologists, personality is defined as a mixture of five traits: relative extraversion or introversion, openness to new ideas and experiences, compliance, conscientiousness, and neuroticism (that is, a tendency to anxiety, moodiness, and other negative emotions). It should come as no surprise that personality influences perceptions of justice. Previous research has shown that it shapes our beliefs about power, loyalty, purity, and more – even our resilience in overcoming limitations or other setbacks.
Ideas of justice disintegrate into competing values. The rule of equality, for example, states that when people share, everyone should receive the same. The norm of fairness presupposes that people should get what they deserve. The principle of reciprocity implies that they should receive approximately what they gave. Generosity sees virtue in being more outspoken than necessary, and so on.
Self-interest wreaks havoc on our minds when we fight these norms. For example, whether we think a fair marginal tax rate is usually at least partially dependent on the tax category we are in. But Andreevich and his team were interested in the role of the individual in the formation of our sense of justice – without the intervention of oneself. -interest.
So they developed a game. In the first round, Person A was given $ 10 and told to share it with Person B. In the second round, Person A became the recipient and someone else, Person C, decided how to split the $ 10. Moreover, C was first told how A shared in the first round.
The audience whose members took the personality tests then decided how fair it was to share. Without a skin in the game, one could assume that they are free of personal interests. They were then asked twice how moral C’s proposition was to A – once before learning how A shared in the first round, and again after being told. Judgments varied greatly, but there was a pattern.
Of the five traits, neuroticism did not play a prominent role. But the other four did.
People who were more welcoming – gullible, sympathetic, and kind – were especially resentful when they watched someone selfishly share, for example, leaving $ 8 and giving away only $ 2. There were also those who were more extroverted, open, or conscious. The same people were especially eager to praise when they saw someone generously share.
The same traits – benevolence, extraversion, awareness, and openness – also predicted how the audience would react to information about how selfishly, fairly, or generously A shared when he was the giver in the first round. People with such qualities were particularly impressed by the generosity shown to established curmudgeons, and the harsh stinginess towards someone they considered generous.
Now extrapolate from this how our individual differences affect the thousands of other decisions we make, individually or collectively. Who Should Inherit How Much Wealth? Who should be imprisoned for what crime and for how long? Who should be rewarded and honored for what achievement and in what amount?
An extrovert and an introvert, or a conscious and disorganized person, are likely to disagree on these issues; as well as someone with an open and curious mind, as well as someone who does not want to try something new. It is not yet clear why these traits should lead to different sensitivities. But it is clear that this is so.
The true understanding here is that none of us value moral authority, so we all need to listen patiently and patiently to one another. Since we are different, we will never agree on what is fair. We are destined to argue forever and seek justice.