How impartial are the observers of justice theory?

Guillermina Jasso, Robert Shelly, Murray Webster

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This paper develops a unified framework for studying justice and impartiality – identifying six opportunities for impartiality, four for observers and two for allocators; generating the person-specific impartiality profile, including separate subprofiles for observer and allocator activities; and characterizing groups and societies by the impartiality profiles of their members. The immediate challenge is to measure the six kinds of impartiality. This paper takes a first step, focusing on three kinds of observer impartiality – the classic just-reward impartiality and the two new kinds identified by justice theory, framing impartiality and expressiveness impartiality. Understanding the two new forms of impartiality is important because their absence could destroy the good effects of impartiality in other justice elements. The paper reports the results of three factorial surveys carried out among college students in the United States, assessing the students’ just-reward, framing, and expressiveness impartiality with respect to the earnings of fictitious workers. The paper makes three main contributions. Theoretically, it illuminates the marriage of justice and impartiality, leading to new insights and new research avenues. Methodologically, the paper develops new analytic and graphical tools for assessing observer impartiality. Substantively, the paper shows that (1) while just gender gaps in aggregate analyses of college students are almost nil (contrary to the just gaps found among adults), closer respondent-specific analyses indicate an intricate mix of subsets of respondents favoring one or the other gender; (2) framing impartiality by gender is almost universal; and (3) expressiveness impartiality ranges from 28 to 57 percent, with an intriguing mix of results by sample and respondent gender. Overall these results suggest that there may be “little cultures” of justice and impartiality on U.S. college campuses. If that is so – and pending future research on all six kinds of impartiality in a variety of samples across countries and over time and as well with respect to rewards other than earnings, such as grades, bequests, and prison sentences – we have offered a way to measure those cultures and understand them theoretically.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)226-246
    Number of pages21
    JournalSocial Science Research
    StatePublished - Mar 2019

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Education
    • Sociology and Political Science


    Dive into the research topics of 'How impartial are the observers of justice theory?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this