Sunday, March 16, 2008

Just world theory: Antisocial vs prosocial behaviour

Just world theory: Antisocial vs prosocial behaviour
The just world theory postulated that humans need to believe that the world is a fair place where people generally get what they deserve: hard work and honesty reaps rewards, while laziness and dishonesty deserve punishment. Conversely, if we believe that the world is unjust, we would fear that our efforts and investment might be in vain and that hardworking people might never succeed. This negative assumption is not only unproductive, but also threatening and anxiety-provoking, thus we tend to defend and protect our belief in a fair and just world by either helping or blaming the victim.
The case study on a local accident below was taken from The New Paper on 21st February this year.

Brief description of the case:

When Ms Atika and her friends pulled over to help the victims of the automobile accident, she asked the bystander, a man in his 50s who arrived before them, to call for the police, while she get the ambulance. However, despite holding to his handphone, the man refused to help and suggested that she call the police instead. In addition to the misery of the distressed victims, he even discouraged his female companion from offering water to them. He also commented that it was only a “small accident” and told Ms Atika “not to worry” before leaving. This inconsiderate behaviour greatly infuriated and disgusted Ms Atika as the “small accident” claimed two lives and injured two others. It was not known if the man had witnessed the accident or how long had he been there before Ms Atika and her friends arrived, nevertheless, he could have made a difference if he had seek for help earlier.

The case study clearly depicted two contrasting social behaviours exhibited by Ms Atika (prosocial) and the inconsiderate man (antisocial). To explain and account for the behaviours they exhibited, we shall apply the just world theory into the study. When Ms Atika attend to the victims of the car accident, she saw them suffering innocently, thus threatening her belief that only bad people suffer in a just world. This discrepancy between thoughts and reality invoked a state of anxiety, which then motivated her helpful prosocial behaviour to restore justice to the situation.

On the other hand, the just world belief held by the man might interfere and prevented him from helping the victims altogether. In this case, the man might rationalize that the victims are blameworthy and that they deserve to suffer, therefore justifying his own inaction and at the same time maintaining his belief in a just world. This is especially true in an emergency situation, when victims cannot be help easily or when their sufferings are expected to continue despite receiving help. The scene of accident victims suffering was disturbing and threatening to the logic of a fair and just world, therefore in order to protect his own belief, he might change his attitude to the victims, convincing himself that the victims are “bad people” who are responsible for their own sufferings, thus not worthy of his help.

This is an example involving the application of the just world theory, by analyzing the situation and explaining the rationale behind their behaviours, we are able to gain deeper insight into what seems like a superficial act of negligence and antisocial behaviour. However, this reasoning is just my speculation and they may not actually reflect the thoughts of the characters in the case study. Human helping behaviors are complex and involve a myriad of other factors including, social and cultural factors, time, mood, guilt and individual personality. Therefore, unless the people in the case study explain themselves, we might never understand why such behaviours occur or what are they thinking when they decided to help or blame the victims.

Before I read up on the just world theory, I thought that it was just some other well-thought theory explaining some social phenomenon. Upon further investigation, I realized that it was more than some social phenomenon; rather it encompasses more deeply rooted cultural teachings and philosophy. Everyone in the world is subjected to the just world belief, where good triumph against the evil, honesty prevails over greed and the hardworking people are rewarded while the lazy worker are punished. Can you imagine a world without a social philosophy and belief in a just world? People will engage in more unethical behaviours and tend to be less hardworking as they belief that hard work does not necessarily contribute to success. Therefore, it is important that people protect their own beliefs in a just world for the proper functioning and integrity of the society. However, the cruel truth that underlies the just world theory is that people may become unsympathetic towards innocent victims of tragedies like the man in the case study.


Lim, C. (2008, February 21). Passer-by witnesses heartless behaviour: Bochap uncle makes her
blood boil. The New Paper, pp. 2-3.


dax said...

i totally agree that Just World theory are essential to keep our social system in order. However, i like to believe that the man is an isolate case rather than a generalisation to the whole human population.

Frank said...

I would not really agree with the cultural teachings and philosophy on just world theory. Think about the poor get poorer and the rich get richer. Are the poor subjected to just world theory? They too suffer to make their ends meet. As for rich, some even born with silver spoon, will not even need to suffer. Even if people protect their belief, there are things people rarely do. (i.e help the poor)

buaysenger said...

Most of the younger generation are more anti-social and selfish.

And most would still like to agree witht he Just World theory, else we would feel an inbalance and life would be seen as topsy turvy.

See Singapore, do you really think there is a Just World theory? The rich agree on Just World theory, when they are not affect, most of the poor agree on the Just World theory even when they are affect.

Joel said...

The Just World Theory serve as a cue for people to blame other for their own misfortune. Perhaps someone people really deserve what they get, as the saying goes "U reap what u sow". But if we generalize too much from the theory, we will become bias toward the less fortunate.

My Formulation is said...

it is very essential and cultural relatived. but i think it is a way for anti-social to express their jealous feeling of the prosocial and the society itself. since the universe is under this theory, almost everyone conformed at last. those who are differently form the majority are considered anto-social, but may be the world is reversed, the marjority is anti-socail, the minority is prosocial.

rockaren said...

maybe the bystander was in shock and his behaviour was nothing whatsoever to do with believing those in the accident were deserving of their fate.