From injustice to action: The role of empathy and perceived fairness to address inequality via victim compensation

Karolina Urbanska*, Shelley McKeown, Laura K. Taylor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
36 Downloads (Pure)


Acting prosocially towards others may sometimes involve tangible costs to self, which can be associated with lower motivation to help those who have been the victims of injustice. In contrast to previous work which suggests that empathy does not shape the perceptions of injustice, the present research proposes that while perceptions of fairness in the context of injustice are dynamic, they may well be shaped by empathy. Using a dictator-style paradigm, the present research explored the extent to which empathy is related to perceptions of injustice and in turn, compensating forms of inequality. A non-registered Study 1 (N = 466) found that higher empathy predisposition is related to perceiving more injustice in contexts of inequality. Preregistered Study 2 (N = 406) extended this finding by experimentally manipulating empathy, showing that emphasising with the victim of inequality is indirectly related to perceiving injustice. The hypothesised mechanism, empathy allowing identification and experiencing the feelings of anger associated with the injustice, is supported in Study 2. As such, perceptions of fairness are not static; empathy is argued to be an important mechanism in forming justice perceptions. Data and supplementary materials: [DOI:].

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-140
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Early online date21 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - May 2019

Structured keywords

  • SoE Centre for Psychological Approaches for Studying Education


  • injustice
  • registered report
  • dictator games
  • empathy
  • compensation
  • fairness


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