We can all probably agree that we’d like for the world to be a fair place. What’s harder to agree on is whether the world actually is fair.

Although it’s a basic truth that “life isn’t fair,” people differ in the extent to which they believe the world is fair or unfair. Psychologists talk about the “just world” theory, which says that people want to believe the world is fair – implying that when good things happen to us, it’s because we deserve it.

Of course, the other side of this is a little darker: when bad things happen to other people, that means they must deserve it too, if we’re assuming that the world is a just place. Because of implications like these, the “just world” question gets complicated. Is it even a good thing to believe that life is fair?

Recently, a group of psychologists ran a study looking at the relationship between believing in a just world and honesty. They hypothesized that people who believed the world was fair would be less honest, citing the fact that belief in a just world has previously been “linked to antisocial tendencies.”

In their experiment, the researchers found that, indeed, people who had greater belief in a just world tended to lie more about the results of a coin flip. The causation of how this works is unclear, but it seems there may be a link between believing that life is fair and being predisposed to dishonesty.

This isn’t to say that thinking the world is just is necessarily all bad. For example, one study found that believing in a just world is associated with resilience. The study, which was done by researchers in China, also raised questions about whether believing in a just world may mean different things to people in individualistic vs. collectivistic societies, suggesting that there could be a cultural element at play in all this too.

Overall, it appears that believing in a just world and believing in an unjust world are both linked to certain advantages. And if that’s not fair, I don’t know what is!

Image: Flickr/yoni sheffer