Human behavior is one of the most complex and captivating mechanisms on the entirety of the planet. Through countless studies and experiments that have been conducted to make logical sense of it, our behavior time after time has proved that it is not confined within the walls of logic and reasoning. Interestingly, when it comes to certain aspects, some individuals forsake their emotions and opt for reasoning to have a clear conclusion to a problem or solution, and among these, one that caught the interest of psychologists was the basis for justice.
What is Justice?
One of the key features to maintain a healthy society is justice, it is the concept of the moral and ethical rights of fairness for every individual. However, this is the broadest definition of it, and when it comes to the actual practical use of it and trying to bring justice to someone numerous factors come into play. That’s the whole reason why throughout history each succession of a new law is only passed when it comes to justice. Unfortunately, via various tactics and system exploitation, people are trying to dodge this, and even though it is plain as day to everyone we are told not to let emotion overrun our final decision. But is it emotions that drive a person to fairness?
Justice Sensitivity: Various psychological studies and observations have given rise to a term known as Justice Sensitivity. It is used as a hypothetical measuring scale of how people respond when they are presented with situations that invoke a sense of justice within them; someone being treated unethically. You may have also noticed yourself, that on certain topics our projection of justice becomes cemented very quickly and one-directional. Therefore, understanding if this conclusion is based on emotions (anger and fear mostly) or logic is very important.
In a study, psychologists used something known as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to uncover what exactly happens in an individual’s brain and to what extent their justice sensitivity hiked as they evaluate various actors’ behaviors based on their actions in the videos shown to them where actors were performing various acts like kicking a beggars bowl or pulling someone’s hair. In this, the faces of the people were not clearly visible to avoid any emotional attachment. It was seen that justice sensitivity had no effect on the neuro-hemodynamic response (quick delivery of blood to active neuronal tissues), however, it did influence high-order computational nodes in the right temporoparietal junction, right dorsolateral, and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex that analyzes mental states understanding and maintains goal representations. Prior to the experiment, participants filled out an online questionnaire that included age, gender, level of education, religion, and political orientation.
- Measuring Empathy: In this exercise, participants were seen how they find the played visuals, where someone was doing something morally wrong or right. In scenarios where unethical actions were shown, participants blamed the person for doing such, and naturally, they praised the actors who helped others. As expected people who showed more blame towards injustice and unfairness scored higher on the justice sensitivity questionnaire. However, it should be noted that self-oriented justice sensitivity also predicted more praise for interpersonal assistance.
- Cognitively Driven: What was surprising about the data was that people who exhibited more justice sensitivity showed higher activity in the region of the brain that deals with higher-order cognition (the critical thinking and reasoning based on the circumstances). Surprisingly, the region of the brain that was expected to show higher activity; the area that is linked with emotional processing was not affected. This was a clear sign that our decisions when it comes to justice are not based on emotions or sentiment values which are often portrayed as the driving force to bring fairness to each individual. Perhaps, just like every other negative influence this idea of emotion-driven justice was imbued within our psyche thanks to movies and television shows. According to psychologists, the reason why we engage our higher-order cognition for justice must be in accordance with the reward of good action versus bad action.
- The Discussion: It is clear that our brains’ are complicated when it comes to making decisions, as seen some important conclusions are led strongly by emotions while reasoning is completely ignored but here we see a completely different approach. An alternative explanation according to psychologists behind this study is that the bad actions are salient and people easily pick on them compared to good actions and unconsciously we accept and understand this, perhaps that’s why we put such strong emphasis on the fairness of the performed action.
Overall, the study provided important insights and it is safe to say that justice is solely based on reasoning and logic rather than emotions. However, if participants had to judge themselves or their known people for their actions, results may have varied as emotions can be affected easily.