Fairness is in the eye of the beholder, so be tolerant

Ideas

Fairness is in the eye of the beholder, so be tolerant

A new study shows how personality traits, not objective standards, determine what people find just or unjust

Andreas Kluth

When exactly is something either fair or unfair? Whether the topic is taxation, pay and bonuses, government benefits, crime and punishment, or almost anything else, we just can’t seem to agree.

The reason, it turns out, is that our intuitions about these matters are shaped not only by culture and upbringing but also by our individual natures. Fairness isn’t an objective standard but a subjective cocktail of what social scientists call norms, and people embrace or reject these norms according to unique personality traits. That’s the upshot of new research by Milan Andrejevic, Luke Smillie, Daniel Feuerriegel, William Turner, Simon Laham and Stefan Bode at the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences in Australia.

To psychologists, personality is defined as a mixture of five traits: relative extroversion or introversion, openness to new ideas and experiences, agreeableness, conscientiousness and neuroticism (that is, a proclivity towards anxiety, crankiness and other negative emotions). That personality influences notions of fairness shouldn’t be surprising. Previous research has already shown that it shapes our feelings about authority, loyalty, purity and much else — even our resilience when coping with lockdowns or other setbacks. ..

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