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Acting prosocially towards others may sometimes involve tangible costs to self, which can be associated with lower motivation to help those who have been the victims of injustice. In contrast to previous work which suggests that empathy does not shape the perceptions of injustice, the present research proposes that while perceptions of fairness in the context of injustice are dynamic, they may well be shaped by empathy. Using a dictator-style paradigm, the present research explored the extent to which empathy is related to perceptions of injustice and in turn, compensating forms of inequality. A non-registered Study 1 (N = 466) found that higher empathy predisposition is related to perceiving more injustice in contexts of inequality. Preregistered Study 2 (N = 406) extended this finding by experimentally manipulating empathy, showing that emphasising with the victim of inequality is indirectly related to perceiving injustice. The hypothesised mechanism, empathy allowing identification and experiencing the feelings of anger associated with the injustice, is supported in Study 2. As such, perceptions of fairness are not static; empathy is argued to be an important mechanism in forming justice perceptions. Data and supplementary materials: [DOI:].

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

Publication Date





129 - 140