Justice Standard Determines Emotional Responses to Over-Reward


Journal Article

© 2016, © American Sociological Association 2016. 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.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Clay-Warner, J; Robinson, DT; Smith-Lovin, L; Rogers, KB; James, KR

Published Date

  • March 1, 2016

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 79 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 44 - 67

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0190-2725

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1177/0190272516628299

Citation Source

  • Scopus