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Egocentric interpretations of fairness and interpersonal conflict, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes


Two experiments tested the hypothesis that egocentric interpretations of fairness are an important cause of unnecessary and costly settlement delays in bargaining. Subjects engaged in an interactive, dynamic bargaining task in which their objective was to reach an agreement with an opponent. If negotiators failed to settle, a strike ensued which was costly for both parties. The results of Experiment 1 indicated that negotiators' judgments of fair outcomes were biased in an egocentric direction. Further, the magnitude of the parties' biases strongly predicted the length of strikes. Experiment 2 examined the role of situational complexity as a cause of egocentric interpretations of fairness. Two forms of complexity were examined: complexity created by background information concerning the dispute and complexity associated with asymmetries in negotiators' strike costs. Background information concerning the dispute and asymmetric costs exacerbated egocentric interpretations of fairness. Egocentric interpretations of fairness were greatest when measured before negotiation and were mitigated following bargaining. Negotiators showed biased recall of information concerning the dispute, remembering more information that favored their own position. The magnitude of bias was positively related to egocentric interpretations of fairness. We conclude that egocentric interpretations of fairness hinder conflict resolution because people are reluctant to agree to what they perceive to be an inequitable settlement.




Leigh Thompson, George F. Loewenstein

Date Published



Thompson, Leigh, and George F. Loewenstein. 1992. Egocentric interpretations of fairness and interpersonal conflict. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 51(2): 176-197.


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