H. IJzerman & J.-W. van Prooijen: Social Psychology Just © 2008 World Hogrefe 2008; and Emotional Vol. & Huber 39(2):xxx–xx Publishers Defensex

Just World and the Emotional Defense of Self Hans IJzerman and Jan-Willem van Prooijen Department of Social Psychology, VU University, The Netherlands Abstract. This research examines how individuals with different affect regulation strategies cope with just-world threats. Our study demonstrated that individuals who poorly downregulate negative affect (a state-oriented style) more avidly attempt to defend a just world after this opportunity is offered via an authority figure when that belief of a just world was threatened than do individuals who successfully downregulate negative affect (an action-oriented style), after a filler task. Sizable differences thus exist in how individuals defend their just-world beliefs as a function of how people deal with their affective states. Keywords: just world, motivation, PSI theory, affect regulation

“That fellow was liquidated because he was a criminal!” is common in public discourse after reading about a crime. Lerner (1980) proposed that people have a need to believe that one gets what one deserves, often referred to as “just world beliefs.” A logical response for believers in a just world is to deem that a victim of a crime in some sense “deserved it.” Hence, the aforementioned response potentially changes perception on one’s chances of victimization. This defense mechanism might be functional as crimes can leave individuals in negative states. The justworld theory has repeatedly been employed to explain responses to everyday threats surrounding human beings. Lerner (1980), however, described just-world theory as a metaphorical construct for reality rather than an underlying psychological process. Several justice researchers have argued that just-world beliefs give meaning to much of life (Hafer & Bègue, 2005). By defending these beliefs, people can reduce or even prevent facing threats from their environment. In this article, we explore novel concepts for meaning extracted from just-world beliefs, illustrated by differences in abilities to self-regulate negative states and their relations to responding to just-world threats. Just world beliefs can essentially be regarded as overall meaning structures and, consequently, as overall goals. Just-world threats are thus theorized to influence goal concepts. For example, Crocken and Neur (2004) discussed that threats can inspire or terrorize the minds of individuals, suggesting that individuals trembling with fear lack clear goals, whereas persons who have increased levels of motivation possess a clear sense of meaning and purpose. Hence, in the current article we review the previously mentioned just-world threats as frustration to meaning and purpose of maintaining one’s world as just. Park and Folkman (1997) divided this concept of © 2008 Hogrefe & Huber Publishers

meaning in two components: global and situational meaning. Global meaning refers to “people’s enduring beliefs and valued goals,” including their contract with a just world. Conversely, situational meaning refers to “meaning that is formed in interaction between a person’s global meaning and the circumstances of a particular person-environment transaction.” In order to make sense of their world, individuals tend to appraise a situation by evaluating the overall significance and then continue as to how this situation fits into their preexisting understanding of the world. Incongruence between global (preexisting understanding) and situational (appraisal of the situation at hand) meaning has been associated with a host of aversive states (Park & Folkman, 1997). In order to avoid or reduce these aversive states, individuals participate in “meaning management”: reducing discrepancies between appraised situational meaning and preexisting global meaning and consequent aversive states. This incongruence is similarly explained in Gendolla’s (2000) mood-behavior model (MBM). However, while the MBM does recommend researching individual differences and behavioral outcomes, it does not address these differences specifically. Reverting to just-world threats, individuals (after the threat of, say, an armed robbery) either need to rethink their overall frame of meaning that the world is a just and fair place (i.e., “My world is not just”) or reappraise the situation at hand (i.e., “This crime only happens to people involved with criminal activities, not to John Doe”). In effect, incongruence between situational and global meaning equals goal frustration (as just-world concepts are part of overall goalsetting) or an unanswered threat, both of which have been demonstrated to lead to rumination and continuation of the aversive states (e.g., Martin & Tesser, 1989). Personality systems interactions (PSI) theory has provided a theory on affect regulation systems through speSocial Psychology 2008; Vol. 39(2):xxx–xxx DOI 10.1027/1864-9335.39.2.117


H. IJzerman & J.-W. van Prooijen: Just World and Emotional Defense

cialized psychological mechanisms containing a hypothetical construct reflecting a central executive system. This theory on personality differences in self-regulation can supply explanations for aforementioned complex motivational theories and individual differences in affect regulation. This difference is moderated by the ability to downregulate affect and the difference in rumination about aversive states. The inability to downregulate negative states has been referred to as a state-oriented style of affect regulation. This inability is paired with “uncontrollable ruminations and hesitation, especially under stressful circumstances.” Individuals in an action-oriented style of affect regulation focus on options for action that support coping. They downregulate negative affect and are able to persist pursuing goals, even under stressful circumstances, whilst state-oriented individuals continue to ruminate about their negative states when under stressful circumstances. Hence, action-oriented individuals are able to downregulate negative states more effectively than state-oriented individuals when required as a result of the activation of extension memory. Via this extension memory, action-oriented individuals are independently able to find meaning, while state-oriented individuals lose access to the central executive system as a result of negative states. They continue to ruminate and are not independently able to seek alternative methods to avoid being confronted with aversive states (Koole & Jostmann, 2004). The present study examines the amount to which individuals independently regulate affect or downplay victimization chances via an authority figure after an armed robbery prime (essentially a threat to just-world beliefs). The present research thus examines the attempt to decrease incongruence in meaning through situational reappraisal of the threat to a just world (i.e., just-world defense). We test the hypothesis that state-oriented individuals will more often grasp an opportunity from an authority figure to downplay victimization chances as compared to action-oriented individuals after a threat to a just world, while no such difference should exist in the low-threat condition.

Method Participants Participants were recruited through leaflets around campus of VU University in the Netherland. Participants were 49 students (32 females and 17 males) varying in age from 18 to 26 years (M = 20.97, SD = 2.25). They voluntarily participated after completing an unrelated task and were randomly assigned to the low- or high-threat condition. 1

The experiment lasted 15–20 minutes; they received a compensation of 2.5 Euros.

Materials and Procedure Participants completed the experiment in cubicles containing computer equipment. The experiment was presented on computers as four unrelated studies. Initially, they completed 12 randomly presented threat-related items of the Action Control Scale (ACS-901, e.g., “When I have lost something that is very valuable to me and I can’t find it anywhere: A. I have a hard time concentrating on anything else (state orientation), B. I put it out of my mind after a little while (action orientation)” (see Kuhl, 1994, for the complete scale) to measure affect regulation skills. Participants picked one of two items in response to challenging situations. Based on this judgment, 25 participants were classified as state-oriented (M = 16.80, SD = 1.17), answering at least six situations indicating a tendency to ruminate; 24 others were classified as action-oriented (M = 19.71, SD = .62). These classification norms are based on previous studies on PSI theory (see Kuhl, 1994). The current measurement (M = 18.27, SD = 1.71) (Cronbach’s α = .80) was sufficiently reliable. Upon completion of the ACS-90 (one of two independent variables) participants continued with a dragand-drop task, presumably composed for a Dutch television program related to investigating incidents. Participants were requested to arrange sentences in what they thought would be most effective in communicating to the program’s viewers. These sentences were used to prime participants with one of two situations. The manipulation included a low-threat condition (a situation in which a young girl caused a minor accident with her mother’s car and was punished accordingly) and high-threat condition (an unpunished, armed robbery, allegedly taking place a few days prior, near the university). After the manipulation, participants completed a 5min filler task, after which they answered a question about victimization chances, directed by an authority figure: “According to the minister of justice the chance that John Doe is the victim of a crime is slim to none. Please indicate how much you agree with the minister.” (1 = not at all, 7 = agree completely) The current study was intended as preliminary illustration, following Wanous, Reichers, and Hudy (1997), who suggested a preference for single-item measures as compared to multiple-item measures in terms of producing similar correlations with outcome variables. All participants finished with a demographic questionnaire, after which they were thanked, debriefed, and paid for participation.

The ACS-90 consists of several scales. The threat-related scale (AOT) is related to the self-regulation of meaningful experience and threatening conditions. Given that we examined manipulations of threat, we focused on AOT in our study (see Koole and Jostmann, 2004).

Social Psychology 2008; Vol. 39(2):xxx–xxx

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H. IJzerman & J.-W. van Prooijen: Just World and Emotional Defense

Results The results were analyzed in a 2 (action- vs. state-oriented) × 2 (high vs. low just-world threat) between-participants analysis of variance2. This analysis revealed only an expected interaction between self-regulation orientation and condition, F(1, 46) = 4.47, p < .050, χ² = .090. The examination of the interaction (see Table 1) shows that within the high-threat condition, state-oriented individuals score significantly higher on just-world belief defense than do action-oriented individuals, F(1, 45) = 5.29, p < .05, χ² = .105. No such significant effect exists for the lowthreat condition, F < 1. These results corroborate the hypothesis that state-oriented individuals more often downplay victimization chances when an authority figure offers this opportunity as compared to action-oriented individuals (who independently downregulate negative affect) after a just-world threat, while no such effect was expected in the low-threat condition3. As an aside, it can be noted that only amongst state-oriented individuals, those in the high-threat condition scored marginally significant higher than those in the low-threat condition, F(1, 45) = 3.55, p = .066, χ² = .073. Table 1. Mean scores and standard deviations for perceived chance of victimization as a function of self-regulation orientation and just world threat. Self-regulation orientation Action M SD State M

Just world threat Low threat High threat 3.36 (15) 1.50

2.60 (10) .699

2.90 3.93 (10) (14) SD 1.29 1.71 Note. Higher means indicate a lower perceived chance of victimization. Cell ns are given below each mean.

Discussion In this article we review a component of underlying motivational mechanisms for just-world theory. State-oriented 2



individuals in threat-related affect regulation domains are more likely to downplay victimization chances after this opportunity is offered via an authority figure as compared to action-oriented individuals. Some theories explain mood regulation strategies (e.g., Parkinson, Totterdell, Briner, & Reynolds, 1996[not in refs]). The current paper, however, reviews differences as a function of the (in)ability to regulate negative affect, rather than possible strategies. Previous theories (e.g., Kuhl, 1994) demonstrated this inability for state-oriented individuals. Our research is a first indication that this inability might be an underlying mechanism for just-world belief defense and adds to Gendolla’s (2000) MBM in indicating individual differences and hinting toward potential behavioral differences. Our research dealt with threats to goalsetting in the form of meaning found in a just world. Through a just-world threat (an armed robbery) individuals were primed with a discrepancy between global meaning (a just world) and situational meaning (a momentarily unjust world). State-oriented individuals, conforming our hypothesis, more avidly defended a just world when opportunity arises when primed with an armed robbery than action-oriented individuals. No such differences in just-world defense came forth in a fairly innocent situation in the low-threat condition. The present study gives novel suggestions on how individuals deal with negative affect and justice concepts. More importantly, our research might have possible behavioral implications, where state-oriented individuals might be more likely to support hard-lined politicians after horrendous crimes. Action-oriented individuals, on the other hand, are not as much affected by this threat if they have the opportunity to self-regulate, consequently find meaning in other experiences, and might not as quickly support statements based on these threats. Furthermore, one might argue that the girl’s accident could pose a threat to a just world. This condition was our lowthreat condition, as the television program in our manipulation necessitated a type of norm violation. The manipulation would not be credible otherwise. However, the comparison between an (unpunished) armed robbery and a (punished) girl using her mother’s car leaves little discussion as to what is more threatening. Given that our results were consistent with the hypothesized relation between just-world threats and affect regulation, it seems safe to assume that our conditions successfully varied high versus low levels of just-world threats and levels of negative states.

MacCallum, Zhang, Preacher, and Rucker (2002) advise against dichotomization of quantitative variables. However, Coifman, Bonanno, Ray, and Gross (2007) recently argued for this practice when analyzing ordinal or asymmetrical effects. Coifman et al. (2007) state that one may fail to fully capture repressive effects, as regression analyses are comparatively insensitive to ordinal effects. Our current manipulations and measurements manifest in ordinal interactions: Nonthreat conditions show no difference between types of affect regulation, while threat conditions, by definition, show differences between action- and state-oriented individuals on the AOT scale. Disordinal interaction effects would imply similar scores for either, while we demonstrated opposite patterns of victimization chance perception. Analyses show state-oriented individuals’ standard deviation to be significantly higher than action-oriented individuals’ when in the highthreat condition, F(1, 23) = 7.35, p < .05; this difference was nonsignificant for the low-threat condition, F(1, 22) = 2.20, p = .15. By definition, when threatened, state-oriented individuals (AOT) ruminate, similar to high scorers on neuroticism. Our results corroborate previous research, which indicates that those high on instability (those facing rumination) show larger variations on multiple tasks than those low in instability (Robinson & Tamir, 2005).

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Social Psychology 2008; Vol. 39(2):xxx–xxx


H. IJzerman & J.-W. van Prooijen: Just World and Emotional Defense

An additional implication holds that individuals who are ineffective at regulating negative affect seem more likely to change a situational opinion via an authority figure. This could shield them from threatening situations, observing their world as even more just than initially thought. Individuals effective at affect regulation do not show this. These implications would extend beyond our research and might indicate how individuals adapt to threatening circumstances. Contrary to what might be implicitly read from our research, both styles of affect regulation could be adaptive. Indeed, relatively unsafe neighborhoods might call for maintaining a frequent awareness of injustice. Living in these circumstances constantly avoiding threats to a just world with ideas that bad things only happen to bad people, one might not survive. In contrast, safe suburbia might call for avoiding threats and following such authority figures. Horrendous news could leave individuals thinking of a world in constant havoc. Constant ruminations can distort these individuals’ functioning, leaving them unable to deal with day-to-day activities.

References Coifman, K.G., Bonanno, G.A., Ray, R.D., & Gross, J.J. (2007). Does repressive coping promote resilience? Affective-autonomic response discrepancy during bereavement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 745–758. Crocken, J., & Neur, N. (2004). Do people need self-esteem? Comment on Pyszczynski et al. (2004). Psychological Bulletin, 130, 469–472. Gendolla, G.H.E. (2000). On the impact of mood on behaviour: An integrative theory and a review. Review of General Psychology, 4, 378–408. Hafer, C.L., & Bègue, L. (2005). Experimental research on justworld theory: Problems, developments, and future challenges. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 128–167. Koole, S.L., & Jostmann, N.B. (2004). Getting a grip on your feelings: Effects of action orientation and external demands on

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intuitive affect regulation. Journal ofPersonality and Social Psychology, 87, 974–990. Kuhl, J. (1994). Action versus state orientation: Psychometric properties of the Action Control Scale (ACS-90). In J. Kuhl & J. Beckmann (Eds.), Volition and Personality (pp. 47–59). Göttingen: Hogrefe & Huber. Lerner, M.J. (1980). The belief in a just world. New York: Plenum. MacCallum, R.C., Zhang, S., Preacher, K.J., & Rucker, D.D. (2002). On the practice of dichotomization of quantitative variables. Psychological Method, 7, 19–40. Martin, L.L., & Tesser, A. (1989). Toward a motivational and structural theory of ruminative thought. In J. Uleman & J.A. Bargh (Eds.), Unintended thought (pp. 306–326). New York: Guilford. Park, C.L., & Folkman, S. (1997). The role of meaning in the context of stress and coping. General Review of Psychology, 2, 115–144. Robinson, M.D., & Tamir, M. (2005). Neuroticism as mental noise: A relation between neuroticism and reaction time standard deviations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 107–114. Wanous, J.P., Reichers, A.E., & Hudy, M.J. (1997). Overall job satisfaction: How good are single-item measures? Journal of Applied Psychology, 82, 247–252.

Received July 23, 2007 Revision received November 5, 2007 Accepted November 7, 2007

Hans IJzerman Department of Social Psychology VU University Van der Boechorststraat 1 NL-1081 BT Amsterdam The Netherlands Tel. +31 20 598-8851 E-mail [email protected]

© 2008 Hogrefe & Huber Publishers

Just World and the Emotional Defense of Self

have argued that just-world beliefs give meaning to much ..... and Gross (2007) recently argued for this practice when analyzing ordinal or asymmetrical effects.

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