Motivated Cognition and Fairness: Insights, Integration, and Creating a Path Forward

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Abstract

How do individuals form fairness perceptions? This question has been central to the fairness literature since its inception, sparking a plethora of theories and a burgeoning volume of research. To date, the answer to this question has been predicated on the assumption that fairness perceptions are subjective (i.e., “in the eye of the beholder”). This assumption is shared with motivated cognition approaches, which highlight the subjective nature of perceptions and the importance of viewing individuals arriving at those perceptions as active and motivated processors of information. Further, the motivated cognition literature has other key insights that have been less explicitly paralleled in the fairness literature, including how different goals (e.g., accuracy, directional) can influence how individuals process information and arrive at their perceptions. In this integrative conceptual review, we demonstrate how interpreting extant theory and research related to the formation of fairness perceptions through the lens of motivated cognition can deepen our understanding of fairness, including how individuals’ goals and motivations can influence their subjective perceptions of fairness. We show how this approach can provide integration as well as generate new insights into fairness processes. We conclude by highlighting the implications that applying a motivated cognition perspective can have for the fairness literature and by providing a research agenda to guide the literature moving forward.

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