Abstract Two exploratory studies, using a role-playing format, demonstrated that preferences for forms of equity are sensitive to context effects. Context effects attributable to variations in residual stimuli appear to influence the importance of comparisons with the co-worker and to make salient either the input or outcome portion of one's own equity ratio. Context effects attributable to changes in background stimuli seem to have less effect on equity preferences. A set of five context-sensitive propositions summarized into two decision rules are shown to predict both absolute and relative equity preferences for American and Dutch respondents. The linkage between the Dutch context and Dutch equity preferences suggests that portions of equity theory may be culture-specific but, more importantly, that potential situations of equity can be perceived in a much more varied manner than we might have anticipated based solely on studies with American subjects.