Lauded behavioral scientists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky propose two disparate modes of thinking6. System 1 refers to our knee-jerk responses, our quickly-made judgments, our emotional reactions. System 2 refers to a slower, more rational, more calculated thinking process. Many of our biases are elicited through System 1 thinking, including the just-world hypothesis.
By understanding the two systems of thinking, we are better equipped to resist biases
Understanding the dual-processing mode of thinking can help us consciously hone in on the more analytic, System 2 type of thinking. A survey of various debiasing techniques found that they all shared a common thread of deliberately moving from System 1 thinking to System 2.7 Slowing down the process by which we make our judgments and considering all of the information at hand allows us to make better decisions.
With the just-world hypothesis, System 2 thinking means taking a step back to prevent ourselves from making distorted assessments. Sometimes after looking at the full picture we will still support our initial conclusion. Maybe we still feel that the punishment or reward at hand was warranted, and that is okay too. Working on de-biasing the just-world hypothesis does not mean telling ourselves that the world is never just. What we want to open our minds to is a new way of dealing with cognitive dissonance instead of always taking the easiest route. By simply using System 2 thinking, we can think critically, rather than instinctually. This will allow us to clearly see injustices and better prepare ourselves and the world around us to combat them.
So how do we slow down and start using System 2 thinking? Well, the answer to this is less clear-cut. Just like when we are learning a new physical skill, building positive mental practices takes time and repetition. We now know what the just-world hypothesis is and how it happens, so we can be more aware of it in ourselves. At first, we might retroactively realize when we are thinking in a biased manner, per se making a quick judgment about someone. Through examining our intuitive judgments and looking at the larger picture, we can cultivate proactive System 2 thinking.
We can fight victim-blaming tendencies by cultivating empathy
One tool we can use to combat the negative attitudes towards victims sometimes unknowingly yielded by the just-world hypothesis is empathy. In one experiment led by researchers Aderman, Brehm, and Katz from Duke University, participants were asked to watch a video of a woman receiving electric shocks based on her performance in a learning task. 8 Before watching this tape, participants were either asked to imagine themselves in the scenario or just asked to simply watch the woman in the tape. Those who were in the empathy-inducing group were much less likely to derogate the victim, demonstrating less influence of the just-world hypothesis. So, if we can remember to think critically rather than instinctually, and put ourselves in the shoes of others, we can more accurately assess the situation.