Using two randomized controlled courtroom experiments on actual litigants at court hearings, we examine a thus far unexplored reason why perceived procedural justice can be strongly associated with litigants' trust in judges and legitimate power assigned to judges. We argue that because litigants try to make sense of what is happening at their hearings, they will tend to inhibit ongoing action in order to pause and check what is going on in the courtroom. During this state of behavioral inhibition, experiences of how fairly judges are treating them will have a sturdy impact on litigants’ reactions. This explanation implies that an experimental manipulation known to weaken behavioral inhibition should attenuate the positive association between perceived procedural justice and trust and legitimacy ratings. The results of both experiments support this line of reasoning. We discuss the implications for the understanding of the psychology of procedural justice and the robustness of priming effects in experimental social psychology.
- procedural justice, trust, legitimate power, court hearings, behavioral disinhibition priming