The belief in a just world (BJW) refers to beliefs and processes that convey and maintain faith in the idea that the world is a fair and just place, a place where people get what they deserve and deserve what they get—a concept first described by Melvin J. Lerner in the 1960s. Lerner's interest in the concept came from his efforts to understand why highly educated university students consistently condemned victims of poverty as "lazy and no good," while denying evidence showing them to be victims of socioeconomic powers beyond their control. According to Lerner, in order to maintain psychological equanimity, engage in goal-directed behavior, and plan for the future, people need to believe that they live in a just world, a place where they will get what they deserve, at least in the long run.
The BJW serves several functions. First, it helps reduce existential terror (i.e., concerns resulting from our ability to comprehend a meaninglessness world and our own mortality). Specifically, without assurance that victims deserve their fates or that they will ultimately be compensated, people would be overcome by the suffering that surrounds them and be terrified that a similar fate could befall them. Second, the BJW encourages people to commit to longrange goals and facilitates the socially regulated behavior of day-to-day life. The belief encourages goal-directed, instrumental behavior by providing the rationalization necessary to engage in such behaviors. Specifically, without the knowledge that hard work will be rewarded, there is little rationale for exerting such effort. Finally, the belief that violators of societal regulations will be punished helps people to feel safe and keeps society orderly.
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