Eliminating the impact of mood on judgments of fairness and re-affirming equity theory
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Equity theory has long been used to predict individuals' responses to equity and inequity. Tests of these predictions have been inconsistent, particularly for inequitable conditions of low inputs and high outcomes, or overreward. Based on empirical evidence pointing to the powerful effects of moods on cognitive tasks, this study incorporates mood into equity theory's propositions, with the expectation that considering mood will enhance equity theory's predictive power. Specifically, as Wyer and Carlston's (1979) "feelings-as-information" hypothesis suggests, subjects who receive favorable outcomes may use their positive outcome-based mood in judging the fairness of the situation. Cognitive research suggests that positive mood reduces the accuracy of judgments, which would explain the inconsistencies in equity perceptions. However, Schwarz and Clore (1983) discovered that the effect of mood on judgments may be eliminated if the mood can be attributed to a logical external source. Two studies were conducted using similar procedures with different overrewards and external sources. In both studies, overrewarded subjects rated the fairness of being overrewarded and the fairness of the procedures used to allocate the reward. These ratings were analyzed to assess the effects that subjects' inputs, outcomes, and procedures had on their perceptions of fairness. Two groups were given the opportunity to attribute their moods to a source other than the reward. It was hypothesized that mood effects on fairness judgments would be eliminated when subjects were able to attribute their mood to its correct source (i.e., undeserved reward) or to an incorrect but logical source (i.e., music or cheerful surroundings). Specifically, the elimination of the effect of positive mood should serve to increase accuracy in judgments of fairness. The hypothesis that subjects who were treated with fair procedures would view their outcome as more distributively fair was supported in both studies. In Study 1, the hypotheses regarding changes in judgment accuracy as a function of external attribution of positive mood were not supported. The results of Study 2, which used a different overreward and transient source, revealed that external attribution of positive mood had a significant effect on subjects' fairness ratings.
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