Justice sensitivity is undergirded by separate heritable motivations to be morally principled and opportunistic

Nikolai Haahjem Eftedal*, Thomas Haarklau Kleppestø, Nikolai Olavi Czajkowski, Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington, Espen Røysamb, Olav Vassend, Eivind Ystrom, Lotte Thomsen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Injustice typically involves some people benefitting at the expense of others. An opportunist might then be selectively motivated to amend only the injustice that is harmful to them, while someone more principled would respond consistently regardless of whether they stand to gain or lose. Here, we disentangle such principled and opportunistic motives towards injustice. With a sample of 312 monozygotic- and 298 dizygotic twin pairs (N = 1220), we measured people’s propensity to perceive injustice as victims, observers, beneficiaries, and perpetrators of injustice, using the Justice Sensitivity scale. With a biometric approach to factor analysis, that provides increased stringency in inferring latent psychological traits, we find evidence for two substantially heritable factors explaining correlations between Justice Sensitivity facets. We interpret these factors as principled justice sensitivity (h2 = 0.45) leading to increased sensitivity to injustices of all categories, and opportunistic justice sensitivity (h2 = 0.69) associated with increased sensitivity to being a victim and a decreased propensity to see oneself as a perpetrator. These novel latent constructs share genetic substrate with psychological characteristics that sustain broad coordination strategies that capture the dynamic tension between honest cooperation versus dominance and defection, namely altruism, interpersonal trust, agreeableness, Social Dominance Orientation and opposition to immigration and foreign aid.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5402
JournalScientific Reports
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


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