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J Soc Psychol. 2005 Feb;145(1):35-47.

Belief in a just world and social perception: evidence for automatic activation.

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  • 1Georgia Southern University, Department of Psychology, Statesboro 30460-8041, USA.


The authors tested the hypothesis that beliefs in a just world are automatically activated and used in social perception. Under the guise of a perceptual vigilance task, the authors exposed 34 undergraduate women preconsciously to words that were either rape-related or neutral. Immediately after the exposure, participants read a date scenario that was ambiguous with respect to the man's aggressiveness and the extent to which the woman was responsible for the man's behavior. Afterwards, all participants evaluated the target man and woman on an impression task. The primary finding was that participants holding stronger beliefs in a just world perceived the target woman more negatively after experiencing the rape-related prime words than after experiencing the neutral words. This pattern is consistent with a research literature that shows that believers in a just world will often "blame the victim" in cases of rape. The present findings are important because they provide evidence that general, orienting beliefs are automatically activated in a manner similar to that shown by stereotype beliefs. The authors discussed implications for social perception.

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