Waste management: How reducing partiality can promote efficient resource allocation

Shoham Choshen-Hillel, Alex Shaw, Eugene M. Caruso

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Two central principles that guide resource-allocation decisions are equity (providing equal pay for equal work) and efficiency (not wasting resources). When these two principles conflict with one another, people will often waste resources to avoid inequity. We suggest that people wish to avoid inequity not because they find it inherently unfair, but because they want to avoid the appearance of partiality associated with it. We explore one way to reduce waste by reducing the perceived partiality of inequitable allocations. Specifically, we hypothesize that people will be more likely to favor an efficient (albeit inequitable) allocation if it puts them in a disadvantaged position than if it puts others in a disadvantaged position. To test this hypothesis, we asked participants to choose between giving some extra resource to one person (thereby creating inequity between this person and equally deserving others) and not giving the resource to anyone (thereby wasting the resource). Six studies, using realistic scenarios and behavioral paradigms, provide robust evidence for a self-disadvantaging effect: Allocators were consistently more likely to create inequity to avoid wasting resources when the resulting inequity would put them at a relative disadvantage than when it would put others at a relative disadvantage. We further find that this self-disadvantaging effect is a direct result of people's concern about appearing partial. Our findings suggest the importance of impartiality even in distributive justice, thereby bridging a gap between the distributive and procedural justice literatures.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)210-231
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2015


  • Decision making
  • Efficiency
  • Equity
  • Fairness
  • Public policy

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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