Do the disadvantaged legitimize the social system? A large-scale test of the status–legitimacy hypothesis

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Abstract

System justification theory (SJT) posits that members of low-status groups are more likely to see their social systems as legitimate than members of high-status groups because members of low-status groups experience a sense of dissonance between system motivations and self/group motivations (Jost, Pelham, Sheldon, & Sullivan, 2003). The author examined the status–legitimacy hypothesis using data from 3 representative sets of data from the United States (American National Election Studies and General Social Surveys) and throughout the world (World Values Survey; total N across studies = 151,794). Multilevel models revealed that the average effect across years in the United States and countries throughout the world was most often directly contrary to the status–legitimacy hypothesis or was practically zero. In short, the status–legitimacy effect is not a robust phenomenon. Two theoretically relevant moderator variables (inequality and civil liberties) were also tested, revealing weak evidence, null evidence, or contrary evidence to the dissonance-inspired status–legitimacy hypothesis. In sum, the status–legitimacy effect is not robust and is unlikely to be the result of dissonance. These results are used to discuss future directions for research, the current state of SJT, and the interpretation of theoretically relevant but contrary and null results.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)765-785
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Volume104
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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