All else being equal: Overcoming the egalitarian norm

Brian H. Bornstein, Sarah J. Gervais, Justin Escamilla

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Scopus citations


People who are in powerful positions (e.g., government officials, employers, parents) often decide how to allocate goods to other people. Indeed, control over resources is precisely one of the things that confers power. This chapter provides a brief overview of distributive justice theory, which deals with fairness standards for allocating some limited resource. We next review relevant research on social power, or the ability to influence others in psychologically meaningful ways through the giving or withholding of rewards and punishments. We then present two experiments that examine the effects of power and a number of situational (e.g., ingroup–outgroup, priming notions of power or merit), demographic (e.g., gender), and attitude and personality variables (e.g., political orientation, communal orientation, merit orientation, work ethic, egalitarianism, collectivism, and empathy) on individuals’ allocation behavior in a resource distribution task. The experiments examine the allocation of two different resources: money (Experiment 1) and time on work assignments (Experiment 2). Across both experiments, the results indicate a strong norm of equality, which appears to trump other considerations, such as recipients’ apparent need, merit, or similarity to the allocator. The final section discusses the findings’ implications, such as whether this egalitarian norm can be overcome, and whether it is desirable to do so.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationJustice, Conflict and Wellbeing
Subtitle of host publicationMultidisciplinary Perspectives
PublisherSpringer New York
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9781493906239
ISBN (Print)9781493906222
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014


  • Distributive justice
  • Egalitarianism
  • Individual differences
  • Power
  • Resource allocation
  • Ultimatum game

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology
  • General Social Sciences


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