The just-world hypothesis (or just-world fallacy) is a cognitive bias referring to the common assumption that the outcomes of situations are caused or guided by some universal force of justice, order, stability, or desert. In other words, the just-world hypothesis is people’s tendency to attribute consequences to, or expect consequences as the result of, a cosmic power responsible for the righting of past wrongs, injustices, or imbalances. The premise of the fallacy popularly appears in English in the form of various figures of speech, which often imply a negative reprisal of justice, such as: “You got what was coming to you,” “What goes around comes around,” and “You reap what you sow.”
This phenomenon has been widely studied by social psychologists since Melvin J. Lerner conducted seminal work on the belief in a just world in the early 1960s. Since that time, research has continued, examining the predictive capacity of the hypothesis in various situations and across cultures, and clarifying and expanding the theoretical understandings of just world beliefs.