Justice Standard Determines Emotional Responses to Over-Reward
Anthropology and Sociology
How do people feel when they benefit from an unfair reward distribution? Equity theory predicts negative emotion in response to over-reward, but sociological research using referential standards of justice drawn from status-value theory repeatedly finds positive emotional responses to over-reward. Researchers have proposed methodological explanations for these different findings, but we propose a theoretical explanation—that over-reward based on local comparisons with an interaction partner creates guilt and other negative emotions, while over-reward relative to an abstract justice standard leads to more positive emotion. We describe two experiments that address methodological explanations for the status value findings: (1) lack of tangible rewards and (2) lack of sufficiently large over-rewards. We find that people who are over-rewarded relative to their referential expectations still report less negative emotion and more positive emotion than those who receive expected rewards. We report results from a third experiment that demonstrate support for our theoretical argument.
Social Psychology Quarterly
Robinson, D. T.,
Rogers, K. B.,
James, K. R.
(2016). Justice Standard Determines Emotional Responses to Over-Reward. Social Psychology Quarterly, 79(1), 44-67.
Available at: https://aquila.usm.edu/fac_pubs/15367