Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.

Dissertations that have an embargo placed on them will not be available to anyone until the embargo expires.



Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program


Degree Type

Master of Science (M.S.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



Individual deservingness and group-based equality as rules of distribution have routinely been conflated in past research. These two studies are an attempt to further establish the differences between these two as moral values named fairness and social justice, respectively. In both studies, participants rated “moral acceptability” of eight real-world scenarios that either upheld fairness and violated social justice or vice versa. Each of these scenarios was presented at two time points: at time 1, the upheld principle was presented and the violation of the other was implied, but at time 2, the violation was made apparent with a second sentence. Individual preferences for fairness and social justice were also measured. Study 1 primed basic principles of each value with a sentence scramble task before participants responded to the scenarios. Priming social justice principles significantly decreased moral acceptability ratings of fair scenarios before the social injustice was made apparent compared to the control condition, but ultimately individual differences in preferences for each principle were most predictive of moral acceptability ratings of both types of scenarios. Study 2 primed individual and collective perspectives with a writing prompt before participants responded to scenarios. Both priming tasks increased moral acceptability ratings of socially just scenarios before the unfairness was made apparent. This may have been due to the nature of the writing prompts, both of which required the participant to think of others, suggesting that social justice involves the consideration of social categories rather than simply a collection of people. In both studies, priming tasks and individual differences were generally unable to encourage recognition of the violation one or the other value, prompting the discussion of what else might promote such effortful thinking.


First Advisor

Ronnie Janoff-Bulman

Second Advisor

Nilanjana Dasgupta

Third Advisor

Andrew Cohen