When effort is threatening: The influence of the belief in a just world on Americans' attitudes toward antipoverty policy

Lauren D. Appelbaum, Mary Clare Lennon, J. Lawrence Aber

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


In the political context of the reauthorization of federal welfare reform legislation, a nationally representative sample of 1,570 adults in the United States completed a survey examining the factors that affect attitudes and policy preferences with regard to aid for low-income individuals and families in the United States. This study utilized an innovative survey technique, the factorial survey methodology (Rossi & Nock, 1982), which allows for the simultaneous experimental manipulation of a large number of factors through the use of a vignette. This research demonstrates how the portrayal of difficulties faced by people in need and the ways in which they attempt to overcome these difficulties affect support for policies designed to aid low-income individuals and families. In addition, this study of public attitudes considers the role that psychological orientations of the evaluators play in judgments of families in need. In this case, we examined how the evaluators' belief that the world is a just place influences their evaluations of deservingness. Consistent with our expectations, we found that the more efforts the vignette subject engaged in improving her situation, the less deserving of government benefits she was judged to be by respondents with a strong belief in a just world. The reverse was found among respondents with a weaker belief: more efforts were associated with greater judgments of deservingness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)387-402
Number of pages16
JournalPolitical Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2006


  • Belief in a Just World
  • Deservingness
  • Factorial Survey Methodology
  • Social Welfare Policy Decisions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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