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What's so fair about the status quo? [electronic resource] : examining fairness criteria as moderators of system justification

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  • Social Psychology.
  • Social Interaction.
  • Justice (Philosophy)
  • Social Justice.
  • Control (Psychology)
  • Affect (Psychology)
  • Economics
  • Political Science


System justification theorists have proposed that people are motivated to view their political, economic, and social circumstances as desirable, necessary, and fair (e.g., Jost, Nosek & Banaji, 2004). Despite more than 15 years of system justification research, the meaning of fairness within this context has not been investigated directly. Over the past several decades three major criteria have been identified as contributing to people's perceptions of fairness: distributive justice, procedural justice, and one's own idiosyncratic set of personal values. Focusing on the last two, we reasoned that values are represented more abstractly than is information about procedural fairness, and that the relative weight of values versus procedures should increase at higher levels of mental construal. Whereas information about procedures is often seen as providing a basis for the acceptance of undesirable outcomes, judgments based on personal conceptions of right and wrong are considered to be independent from "establishment, convention, rules, or authority" (Skitka & Mullen, 2008, p. 531), and are therefore unlikely to be used in a motivated defense of the status quo. We therefore hypothesized that system justification would be most likely to occur in conditions where procedures are most salient (i.e., at low levels of construal). However, despite using manipulations of the system justification motive that have previously been successful, and working with issues similar to those used in previous work, we were unable to produce the typical system justification pattern of results. Possible reasons for this are discussed.

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