Making a bad thing worse: “Belief in just deserts” regarding COVID-19 infection

Researchers from Osaka University found that the “belief in just deserts”, which is the idea that infected individual deserves to be infected, was associated with attitudes about government restrictions during public health emergencies in the context of the COVID-19 global pandemic. This information could lead to new strategies for combating discrimination, prejudice, and stigma against COVID-19 patients.

Partial correlations for the belief in just deserts and Human rights restrictions. Control variables: gender and age. Areas of circles are proportional to the number of respondents (N).

Researchers from Osaka University identify characteristics related to prejudice regarding COVID-19 infection

Osaka, Japan – Perceptions of the causes of illness vary widely across the global population. But now, researchers from Japan have found new information about the perception that individuals with COVID-19 deserved to get infected.

In a study recently published in PeerJ, researchers from Osaka University have revealed that opinions about government restrictions regarding public safety were significantly associated with attitudes about COVID-19 patients.

“Belief in Just worlds” is the idea that we live in a just world where individuals receive the rewards or punishments they deserve. When applied to the idea of illness, “belief in just deserts” reflects an individual’s feeling that a person who is ill deserved it because of previous decisions they had made. In the context of the COVID-19 global pandemic, attitudes about illness can have important consequences for patients, as well as for the public health system. However, little is known about characteristics influencing the belief in just deserts regarding COVID-19 infection among Japanese individuals, which the researchers at Osaka University aimed to address.

 “A previous study indicated that individuals in Japan were more likely than those in other countries to believe that COVID-19 patients deserved to be infected,” says Asako Miura, senior author. “Because this psychological characteristic could promote prejudice against COVID-19 patients, we wanted to investigate the characteristics associated with this belief.”

To do this, the researchers conducted an online questionnaire survey of 1,207 respondents in Japan aged 20–69 years. They examined the relationship between the belief in just deserts and demographic variables, as well as infection-related and socio-psychological characteristics.

“The results were surprising,” explains lead author of the study Michio Murakami. “We found that individuals who strongly agreed with government restrictions on individual behavior during public emergencies were more likely to believe in just deserts.”

Men were also slightly more likely to believe in just deserts than women. Furthermore, participants who thought it was unlikely that the average Japanese individual would become infected with COVID-19 had low levels of belief in just deserts.

Given that perceptions regarding the deservingness of illness can lead to discrimination toward patients and can even expand to include prejudice against entire ethnic or occupational groups, this information may be used to address harmful attitudes affecting public health. Specifically, the foundational information reported in this study could lead to new approaches for addressing social discrimination, stigma, and prejudice against individuals with COVID-19 and other illnesses.


The article, “Belief in just deserts regarding individuals infected with COVID-19 in Japan and its associations with demographic factors and infection-related and socio psychological characteristics: A cross-sectional study” was published in PeerJ at DOI:

About Osaka University

Osaka University was founded in 1931 as one of the seven imperial universities of Japan and is now one of Japan's leading comprehensive universities with a broad disciplinary spectrum. This strength is coupled with a singular drive for innovation that extends throughout the scientific process, from fundamental research to the creation of applied technology with positive economic impacts. Its commitment to innovation has been recognized in Japan and around the world, being named Japan's most innovative university in 2015 (Reuters 2015 Top 100) and one of the most innovative institutions in the world in 2017 (Innovative Universities and the Nature Index Innovation 2017). Now, Osaka University is leveraging its role as a Designated National University Corporation selected by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to contribute to innovation for human welfare, sustainable development of society, and social transformation.


Published: 19 Dec 2022


Contact details:

Global Strategy Unit

1-1 Yamadaoka, Suita,Osaka 565-0871, Japan

Academic discipline: 
Content type: 
Funding information:

Japan Society for the Promotion of Science
The Nippon Foundation -Osaka University Project for Infectious Disease Prevention.