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What Goes Around Comes Around: The Evolutionary Roots of the Belief in Immanent Justice

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AbstractThe belief in immanent justice is the expectation that the universe is designed to ensure that evil is punished and virtue rewarded. What makes this belief so ‘natural’? Here, we suggest that this intuition of immanent justice derives from our evolved sense of fairness. In cases where a misdeed is followed by a misfortune, our sense of fairness construes the misfortune as a way to compensate for the misdeed. To test this hypothesis, we designed a set of studies in which we show that people who do not believe in immanent justice are nonetheless implicitly influenced by intuitions of immanent justice. Strikingly, this effect disappears when the misfortune is disproportionate compared to the misdeed: In this case, justice is not restored and participants lose the intuition of immanent justice. Following recent theories of religion, we suggest that this intuition contributes to the cultural success of beliefs in immanent justice.


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