Wicked justice: Differentiating between unfairness and envy

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Source

Academy of Management Best Paper Proceedings, 2012




Meeting Abstract Supplement 1




Academy of Management

Peer Reviewed



Envy is a powerful emotion associated with social comparisons. Although social comparisons have been studied in the field of organizational behavior, they have been largely restricted to the perceptions of fairness. In this paper, I argue that this is a major gap in the organizational behavior literature, because envious comparisons may explain significant variance in important variables above and beyond what is explained by perceptions of unfairness. Envy and unfairness may appear blended with each other because both of these constructs depict unpleasant states involving upward social comparison. However, I provide a theoretical argument how envy is different from perceptions of unfairness at work. I also hypothesized envy and unfairness will have distinct nomological networks. I also tested these hypotheses through two laboratory studies. Study 1 demonstrated that independent raters clearly distinguish between envious- and unfairness-comparisons. In Study 2, I experimentally manipulated conditions of envy and unfairness using a cover story and use of actors as experimental confederates. The study showed that envy and unfairness have differential effects on helping behavior. Also, based on personality data collected from subjects who participated in Study 2, it was found the envy and unfairness have differential antecedents.


Industrial and Organizational Psychology | Organizational Behavior and Theory