Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Deservingness and emotion

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Overview[edit | edit source]

People make judgements about deservingness regularly, in the workplace, socially, and even by observing strangers. These judgements of deservingness are usually based on actions that are performed by another or by oneself (if it is a self-judgement) that lead to a particular outcome. Factors that affect emotions include ingroup or outgroup bias and like or disliking that individual. Actions, emotions and the ingroup/outgroup, like/dislike effect are all indicators of whether someone will perceive another to be deserving or undeserving of a particular outcome. Beliefs about justice are also at the core of deservingness. It is important for one to feel a sense of justice when deservingness is involved as it provides a sense of purpose and plays a large role on our emotional state. Several emotions can be experienced when responding to disappointments or achievements. The actions performed that lead to particular outcomes elicit different emotions including admiration, anger, envy, compassion, guilt, displeasure, depression and schadenfreude (Feather, 2008).

Values are formed during social development which is the basis of how actions and outcomes are assessed, this serves as a motivational goal. Feeling that justice has been served brings forth moral rightness, equity and fairness. When injustice occurs this can diminish someones value system and devalue their morality and elicit emotions that can have a large impact on their life and how they view of judgements and deservingness.

In order to understand deservingness a grasp of the basic concept is necessary along with a comparison and contrast of entitlement. Afterwards, cognitive perceptions of deservingess that affect emotions will be explored for a deeper understanding, this exploration includes insight into emotions with another along with ones self. A study of interest involves the 'tall poppy' study, this has been of particular focus for Feather since he began researching the deservingness model. Once these topics have been explored, relations to other approaches will then be provided.

The concept of deservingness[edit | edit source]

Events and outcomes can often be perceived as deserved or undeserved. These perceptions are linked to the emotions that are experienced with events and outcomes (Lupfer & Gingrich, 1999). Perceptions of deservingness play a large part in which emotions are felt. Positive or negative deservingness can elicit feelings of pleasure or displeasure, anger or sympathy and so on, this depends on the perceived deservingness(Feather, 2006). Deservingness can be viewed as a rightful claim by ones actions whether it be reward or punishment (Feather, 2006). It is seen as a judgement which is dependent on the reliability or balance among observations of actions and outcomes (Feather, McKee & Bekker, 2011).

Volunteer firefighter - perceived as deserving for positive outcome

The deservingness model elicited by Feather (2006) includes a structure of a person, another person, the other person's action as well as the outcome of the other person. The person acquires a role of judgement where they perceive the other persons negative or positive outcome as deserved or not deserved. Such judgements tend to follow the positive or negative actions from the other person in which they are responsible for their own actions (Feather, 2006). These judgements are made from the point of view of one person to another. This structure is dependent on action and outcome relations. A positive action followed by a positive outcome or a negative action followed by a negative outcome would then be perceived as deserved (Lupfer & Gingrich, 1999). However, if one performs a negative action but receives a positive outcome, this would be perceived to be undeserved along with a positive action followed by a negative outcome (Lupfer & Gingrich, 1999). How we interpret actions and outcomes in certain situations as positive or negative is influenced by values. Other essential factors that determine ones judgements about the goodness or badness of actions and outcomes are needs and social norms which involves the person making judgements as well as the social context (Feather et al., 2011).

Another interest of deservingness is with judgements of ones own outcome. This involves how a person judges his or her own outcomes as deserved or undeserved. It involves a person, their self, their actions and their outcome (Feather, 2006). With this, the perspective of the observer changes to a focus on the self - directed outcomes and self - directed emotions, this is instead of a focus on another person's outcomes being positive or negative of another (Feather, 2006).

Entitlement[edit | edit source]

Saying that a particular outcome is deserved, is this the same as saying a person is actually entitled to that outcome? Deservingness concerns judgements in relation to outcomes which are earned as results of actions by a person (Feather, 2003). Whether a person is perceived as responsible for an outcome and action is the main aspect of deservingness (Feather, 2003). Information about a person’s qualities deduces the observed direct or indirect actions. In contrast, entitlement refers to judgements that relate to an established body of law, social norms and formal and informal rules. This meaning the frame of reference is more external to the person(Feather, 2003). Deservingness is connected to the behaviour of a person, to how a person generates a positive or negative outcome. In contrast, entitlement to an outcome emphasizes perceived rights and legal treatments (Feather et al., 2011). Entitlement, like deservingness, concerns both actions and outcomes. An example of entitlement involves a person who is entitled to fair treatment, fair procedure and even inheritance that should be received under terms of a will (Feather, 2003). Generally, entitlement links to matters regarding rights, groups, individuals which may be embodied in conventional beliefs, expectations and obligations. Deservingness involves construction of actions and their outcomes whereas entitlement is more external, based on a framework of laws, rights and social norms that are acknowledged (Feather, 2003). The last difference between deservingness and entitlement is that people can be considered to deserve a positive or negative outcome whereas entitlement mostly signifies positive and negative outcomes (Feather, 2003). An example of this is to say that someone is entitled to fair treatment or to some reward or benefit of which tend to be positive in nature. Usually one does not say that another is entitled to a negative treatment or punishment (Feather, 2006). A negative treatment for a convicted criminal may transpire but this would generally be perceived as a deserved punishment as they take responsibility for their crime (Feather, 2006).

Responsibility[edit | edit source]

Different levels of responsibility have been eminent, ranging from a primitive level and higher levels. The primitive level involves responsibility being held by the person that is associated with particular effects (Feather, 1999). The higher levels involve the degree of personal causality where the person is the locus of effects. The higher levels deem a person responsible for any action or outcome that they can control or intend to create (Feather, 1999). With this, responsibility is concluded to depend on what the person did and what they were required to do. Deservingness elicits a causal analysis where the outcome is evident by the person's responsibility (Feather, 1999).

How do cognitive perceptions of deservingness affect emotions?[edit | edit source]

Sally Pearson with a well deserved win

Have you ever felt resentment towards a co-worker who received a promotion over you when you deserved it more? Have you ever felt pleasure seeing someone else receive a medal knowing they worked so hard for it? The following will explore the emotions that occur when outcomes are perceived as deserved or undeserved.

Depending on positive or negative outcomes being perceived as deserved or undeserved will elicit different emotions (Feather, 2006). The early stages of development produces the way one makes judgements of deservingness later in life (Feather, 2006). Particular views of right and wrong are developed in childhood with the social structure which includes parents, teachers, leaders and culture (Feather, 2006). Sayings such as "good things happen to good people" and "bad things happen to bad people" have a large influence on a persons judgement and reaction such that people get what they deserve and justice is then served (Feather, 2006). There are two types of cognitive processes, these include the social world reflected with the conscious judgmental thought and functioning at an unconscious level and the more basic rules of organization that is laid down early in life (Feather, 2006). Basic elements of how a person assesses actions and their outcomes are by the values a person forms during social development and that serve basic motivational goals (Feather, 2006). These values are activated in differing social contexts as well as their significance within that ones value system Each assessment may vary in their valence and is the key basis of judgements of deservingness and undeservingness (Feather, 2006). It is important to note that deservingness and undeservingness beliefs may only embody a part of an involved set of aspects where emotional states can be triggered. In situations where these beliefs are absent, emotions can still occur (Feather, 2006).

Schadenfreude[edit | edit source]

As Van Dijk, Ouwerkerk, & Goslinga (2009) states, when high achievers experience a difficulty in their life, other people around may find it hard to resist a smile. This is referred to as schadenfreude. Schadenfreude is when one experiences satisfaction in another persons misfortune. Schadenfreude can be linked to a cognitive judgement that another is deserving of their misfortune (Feather, Wenzel & McKee, 2013). Schadenfreude can be induced by the collapse of a high achiever of which another is jealous of or resents (Van Dijk et al., 2009). There have been reports that schadenfreude is decreased when hardship is perceived as undeserved. How people assess the evaluative structure of action and outcome relations depends on beliefs that they have about deservingness (Van Dijk et al., 2009). Positive valued actions that are followed by misfortune will be perceived as undeserved and the misfortune will induce sympathy. That being said, when misfortunes are followed by a negatively valued action, this is perceived as deserved which in turn induces schadenfreude (Van Dijk et al., 2009).

When the passive observer’s position is inferior to the high achiever, anger and displeasure will be more likely to occur. This is particularly likely when the superior position was perceived as undeserved (Feather, 2008). Inferior observers were predicted to degrade and experience schadenfredue towards the high achiever when they failed. The inferior passive observer would be more likely to feel jealous towards the high achiever in comparison to a passive observer with a higher status (Feather, 2008). Feather and Nairn (2005) produced results that establish the crucial roles that deservingness is judged and feelings of resentment occurring in respect to schadenfreude. Resentment was reported in one instance of the high achiever which anticipated degrading of the high achiever with an expected resentment and degrading predicting schadenfreude for the failure of the high achiever (Feather, 2005).

Emotions involved with another person's outcome[edit | edit source]

Emotions such as satisfaction or pleasure are commonly expected for outcomes that are judged as deserved which are generally followed by a feeling of justice. Pleasure often occurs following a deserved positive action producing a positive outcome or a negative action leading to a deserved negative outcome (Feather, 2006). Depending on the degree to which one deserves the outcome, the satisfaction or pleasure will vary, this is generally moderated by perceived responsibility, if they are ingroup or outgroup or whether they are liked or not by the observer (Feather, 2006). An example of these emotions is when the others actions produce a positive outcome that is perceived to be deserved, which will produce stronger feelings of pleasure when that person is a member of the observers ingroup and is liked. Pleasure would not be felt so strongly if the other belonged to an outgroup or was disliked (Feather, 2006). Pleasure about another person’s deserved outcome is similar to that of basking in reflected glory (BIRGing), that is a self – serving cognition where an association is made by an individual and someone of success, this way the success becomes their own. Dissatisfaction occurs when the judgement of undeservingness is the result about the others person’s outcome, this feeling often follows by the feeling of injustice with a degree of resentment (Feather, 2006).

Dissatisfaction is often accompanied by sympathy when a positive action results in a negative outcome that is perceived to be undeserved. Depending on the degree of the others observed responsibility, like versus dislike and ingroup versus outgroup relations would provide varying levels of sympathy (Feather, 2006). Stronger sympathy would occur in a situation where the other person is part of the observers ingroup and is liked rather than belonging to an outgroup and being disliked (Feather, 2006). When a negative action results in a positive outcome (perceived as undeserved), feelings of dissatisfaction and injustice would be accompanied by anger and resentment (Feather, 2006). These emotions would vary depending on the perceived degree of undeservingness which is facilitated by perceived responsibility.

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Emotions involved with ones own outcomes[edit | edit source]

Feelings of justice are again felt when it comes to the judgement of deservingness for one’s own outcomes. The emotion that occurs with this sense of justice will depend on the outcomes valence (Feather, 2006). When an positive deserved outcome occurs the feelings will again be satisfaction as well as pride and self - fulfillment. These feelings however, will vary depending on the degree of self – perceived deservingness (Feather, 2006). An example being when pride is felt as a result of a positive outcome, the pride felt would be much stronger when that person self - evaluation is positive rather than negative. When a negative action results in a negative outcome that is deserved, feelings such as sadness or depression would occur with the negative outcome which may be followed with regret, shame and even guilt (Feather, 2006). This however, can depend on whether harm to another person is the result of this negative outcome (Feather, 2006). Again, these negative feelings would be contingent on the degree of deservingness perceived that is regulated with responsibility and self – evaluation such as these feelings would be stronger when they are negative than when they are positive (Feather, 2006).

There are different emotions that occur when there is a judgement of undeservingness. These emotions include injustice where the type of emotion would depend on whether the outcome is positive or negative (Feather, 2006). When a negative action leads to a positive outcome that is believed to be undeserved, the feelings of pleasure would arise followed by feelings of guilt. Depending on the degree of self’s perceived undeservingness as responsibility and self – evaluation, feelings would differ (Feather, 2006). If ones positive action leads to an undeserved negative outcome feelings that occur include disappointment and resentment (Feather, 2006). When actions or outcomes are judged as more positively or negatively, emotions will be more intense (Feather, 2006). When the self receives a positive outcome, pride will be much stronger, more so when it is followed by an extremely positive action. If another person’s outcome is very negative, feelings of sympathy would be much stronger which is more so when there action is highly positive (Feather, 2006).

Exercise : Emotions on Deservingness

Happy face.svg Reflect on your own emotions as you consider the following deserved or undeserved outcomes:

  • A student receives excellent grades all the time due to their immense study routine.
  • A student who receives excellent grades without studying at all. You spend all of your time studying and receive a not so great grade.
  • A wealthy man who has everything he desires and is known to be an extremely unpleasant person towards everyone loses all of his money.
  • A hard working individual who spends their free time volunteering for the less fortunate wins the lottery.

After reflecting on your emotions with these particular outcomes, it becomes quite evident that your own perceptions on whether someone deserved a certain outcome or not, affects the emotions that you feel. Typically, the student who studies all the time and the volunteer should be perceived to deserve their outcomes. The student who does not study at all when you do and still receives better grades, emotions such as resentment might be felt as this outcome should be perceived as undeserving. The case of the wealthy man should result in schadenfreude or have a similar feeling with the tall poppy study below.

Research on deservingness[edit | edit source]


Tall Poppy[edit | edit source]

A student who consistently ranks near or at the top of the class, public figures and even sports people are referred to as tall poppies. Tall poppies are those who occupy a high status position (Feather, 2006). Feather ran studies that investigated tall poppies in the 1980’s. The study explored the allegation that Australians like to cut down tall poppies to size where people can then degrade their status in several ways (Feather, 2006). An interest in deservingness arose from the results of these studies as to whether or not a tall poppy was perceived as deserving of their status was an essential variable which influenced a person’s feelings about the success or failure of the tall poppy (Feather, 2006). Participants reported higher sympathy and less pleasure when the tall poppy fell and their initial status was perceived as deserved (Feather, 2006).

Essential variables that motivate the desire for a tall poppy to be ‘cut down’ are the perceived feelings of bitterness about one’s own status and about another person’s high status. When a tall poppy then suffers failure, feelings of schadenfreude or pleasure generally occur (Feather & Nairn, 2005). When the tall poppy is perceived to deserve their high status position, feelings of compassion occur when the tall poppy falls or fails (Feather & Nairn, 2005).

While the study about tall poppies produced positive correlations between feelings of pleasure and another persons negative outcome in relation to if they deserve that outcome or not, there are limitations. Firstly, the data for this study purely relied on data that was gathered through personal testimonies, meaning that it may not be accurate as they would present themselves in a better light.

Relation to other approaches[edit | edit source]

The following two theories are easily relatable to the deservingness model as they are based on justice and emotions. That being said, they also differ from the deservingness model.

Equity Theory[edit | edit source]

The equity theory was established by John Stacey Adams in 1963. It is considered to be a ‘justice theory’. Perceptions of fair and unfair allocations of resources within relationships are how this theory explores social approval. This obtains a belief where fair treatment is valued highly (Feather, 2006). People are motivated to maintain the fairness with relationships. Research on the equity theory suggests observing injustice can lead to feelings of distress which was assumed to provoke efforts to restore the justice. Feelings of guilt occurred when someone was over-benefited whereas feelings of anger occurred when someone was under-benefited (Feather, 2006). Research has been conducted in order to study the outcomes of injustice involving distinct emotions. This research included situations of injustice and natural experiences of emotions and injustice. Participants were asked to explain their thoughts, feelings and reactions (Feather, 2006). Anger and bitterness were emotions that were felt as well as distress, surprise, vulnerability and depression reliant on the context.

Appraisal Theory[edit | edit source]

The appraisal theory associates emotions to the cognitive judgement of a situation, generally taking into account the psychological well – being in relation to harms and benefits (Feather, 2006). The appraisal theory and the model of deservingness contrast with their importance and the variables they contain. One type of appraisal might include the fundamental attributions made by someone concerning positive or negative events (Feather, 2006). Perceived responsibility has been rendered a crucial role in influencing how people feel towards others who experience negative outcomes suggesting that anger is felt when another is perceived to be responsible for the negative outcomes and sympathy when they are perceived as less responsible and more as victims (Feather, 2006). There is extensive research with the achievement or disappointment of another that is assessed when people are stigmatized or not stigmatized, when one receives help or not and when hostility is directed at others (Feather, 2006). Those who are perceived as less responsible elicited pity rather than anger. Those who were perceived more responsible elicited anger with less pity (Feather, 2006). Individual needs and values tend to be overlooked with the Appraisal Theory. With the appraisal theory, the degree which someone judges a positive or negative outcome is perceived as deserved. The emotions followed by that judgement are associated with the pattern of appraised actions and outcomes and whether there is a focus or interest of other or self (Feather, 2006).

Responsibility Concept[edit | edit source]

Perceived responsibility is an essential variable that is also recognized by the deservingness approach. This approach identifies the causal attributions and perceived responsibility particularly to attributions to causes that are controllable (Feather, 2006). The deservingness model and the perceived responsibility are not the same, however they are similar, in so far as another person can produce an outcome that results in a deserved outcome for which they are responsible for (Feather, 2006). A person can also receive an outcome that is perceived as undeserved for which they are responsible. The best predictor between these two models is the deservingness model as it reports the feelings about an outcome when judged with perceived responsibility (Feather, 2006).

Critical Thinking[edit | edit source]

In this model, actions that are performed and the outcomes that follow are believed to be the self's responsibility (Feather, 2006). There are limitations to Feathers model of deservingness such as a restriction of personal causation rather than external locus of causation for the outcome (Feather et al., 2011). This restriction means that for the actions that a person performs and the outcome that is followed, they are perceived to be completely responsible. Those who receive outcomes that they are not responsible for are not deemed to deserve that outcome. These outcomes are seen to be beyond the persons control and as an external factor (Feather et al., 2011). Deservingness and perceived responsibility do not always correspond with another as perceived deservingness relies critically on the appraised relation between an action and the resulted outcome (Feather et al., 2011). A person can receive a perceived deserved outcome for which they are responsible and can also receive a perceived undeserved outcome that they are responsible for.

The deservingness model generally applies to peoples beliefs about justice. This model fails to cover every situation. For example, emotions can still occur where justice is not an issue, when high expectations fail, where another person is a victim to which they have no responsibility for. The model represents only a small amount of factors that could trigger such emotional states (Feather, 2006).

Quiz[edit | edit source]

1 Which emotion is experienced when a negative action leads to a positive outcome?


2 Which emotion is experienced when the self receives a negative outcome from a negative action?

Sadness and regret

3 Which theory associates emotions to the cognitive judgement of a situation

Equity Theory
Appraisal Theory

4 In Feather’s (2006) study, when the tall poppies status was initially perceived as deserved did they report:

Higher sympathy and less pleasure
Low sympathy and more pleasure

Take Home Message
Stock post message.svg

“Who are you to judge the life I live? I know I'm not perfect -and I don't live to be- but before you start pointing fingers... make sure your hands are clean!”

― Bob Marley

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Making judgements about your own and another person’s outcome is a natural part of life. These judgements come about by observations of others, ingroup/outgroup bias, like/dislike and one’s beliefs about justice. All of these factors combined contribute to whether one will perceive an outcome as deserving or undeserving. These perceptions of disappointments or achievements largely impact our emotions. One study that shows the effect is the tall poppy study which produced results showing that deservingness does have a strong effect on our emotions and, although it is limited, it does explore the concept of deservingness and essential variables that influence a person’s feelings. It is important to ensure that just because we feel particular emotions due to deserved or undeserved outcomes, not to let this affect our value system and beliefs about justice.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Feather, N. T. (1999). Judgements of deservingness: Studies in psychology of justice and achievement. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 3(2), 86 – 107.

Feather, N. T. (2003). Distinguishing between deservingness and entitlement: Earned outcomes versus lawful outcomes. European Journal of Social Psychology, 33, 367 – 385. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.152

Feather, N. T., & Nairn, K. (2005). Resentment, envy, schadenfreude, and sympathy: Effects of own and other’s deserved or undeserved status. Australian Journal of Psychology, 57(2), 87 – 102. doi: 10.1080/00049530500048672

Feather, N. T. (2006). Deservingness and emotions: Applying the structural model of deservingness to the analysis of affective reactions to outcomes. European Review of Social Psychology, 17, 38 - 73. doi: 10.1080/10463280600662321

Feather, N. T. (2008). Effects of observer’s own status on reactions to a high achiever’s failure: Deservingness, resentment, schadenfreude, and sympathy. Australian Journal of Psychology, 60(1), 31 – 43. doi: 10.1080/00049530701458068

Feather, N, T., McKee, I, R., & Bekker, N. (2011). Deservingness and emotions: Testing a structural model that relates discrete emotions to the perceived deservingness of positive or negative outcomes. Motivation & Emotion,35, 1 – 13. doi: 10.1007/s11031-011-9202-4

Feather, N, T., Wenzel, M., & McKee, I, R. (2013). Integrating multiple perspectives on schadenfreude: the role of deservingness and emotions. Motivation & Emotion, 37, 574 – 585. doi: 10.1007/s11031-012-9331-4

Lupfer, M. B., & Gingrich, B. E. (1999). When bad (good) happen to good (bad) people: The impact ofcharacter appraisal and perceived controllability of judgements of deservingness. Social Justice Research, 12(3), 165 - 188

Van Dijk, W., Ouwerkerk, J., & Goslinga, S. (2009). The Impact of Deservingness on Schadenfreude and Sympathy: Further Evidence. Journal of Social Psychology, 149(3), 290 – 292. doi:10.3200/SOCP.149.3.390-392