Cognitive Bias Feature: The Just-world Hypothesis

My favorite page on WIkipedia is the List of cognitive biases, which I consider fundamental reading material for human life.  A lot of cognitive biases line up with popular historical/religious/philosophical worldviews, and of no bias is that more true than the Just-world hypothesis. It's the belief that there's some kind of cosmic or supernatural force that makes sure everything balances out for people.

The early research in the field was spearheaded by Doctor Michael J. Lerner.  The Wikipedia page for the just-world hypothesis explains his motives for research, and highlights some of the many problems that result from this kind of worldview:

Lerner's inquiry was influenced by repeatedly witnessing the tendency of observers to blame victims for their suffering. During his clinical training as a psychologist, he observed treatment of mentally ill persons by the health care practitioners with whom he worked. Though he knew them to be kindhearted, educated people, they blamed patients for their own suffering.

Lerner suggests that the just-world delusion might be a necessary method for coping with reality -- it's a way to feel as though you're capable of impacting the world in a reliable, predictable way.  He argues that there are both rational and irrational ways of coping with the falsehood of the just-world hypothesis:  accepting the existence of injustice, fighting it, accepting your own limitations; there are also irrational ways of handling it:  deciding that the victims of suffering deserve it, avoiding a full comprehension of the facts.

The just-world hypothesis leads, at least, to complacency about injustice, and more commonly, to victim blaming.  When you believe people deserve what they get, that leads you to believe that marginalized groups -- homosexuals, racial minorities, women -- deserve their circumstances.  A lot of the people who stand against progress believe that the world is already fair.