The just-world hypothesis or just-world fallacy is the cognitive bias (or assumption) that a person’s actions always bring morally fair and fitting consequences to that person, so that all noble actions are eventually rewarded and all evil actions are eventually punished. In other words, the just-world hypothesis is the tendency to attribute consequences to—or expect consequences as the result of—a universal force that restores moral balance. The fallacy is that this implies (often unintentionally) the existence of cosmic justice, desert, stability, or order, and may also serve to rationalize people’s misfortune on the grounds that they deserve it.
The hypothesis popularly appears in the English language in various figures of speech that imply guaranteed negative reprisal, such as: “You got what was coming to you”, “What goes around comes around”, and “You reap what you sow”. This hypothesis 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. Research has continued since then, examining the predictive capacity of the hypothesis in various situations and across cultures, and clarifying and expanding the theoretical understandings of just-world beliefs.