International Society of Political Psychology

Conference Abstracts

Speak no evil: The “Just World” as a fundamental collusion that rewards outward conformity.

Robbie Sutton, University of Kent, UK; Hélder Alves, ISCTE-IUL; Isabel Correia, ISCTE- Lisbon University Institute; Leigh McClellan, University of Kent, UK

Conference: ISPP 2011
Affiliation: University of Kent, UK
Research Area: Social inequality and social change

Co-operation is facilitated by consensual perceptions of justice.  Building on recent research (Alves & Correia, 2008), the authors propose that people tacitly appreciate this social dividend and so valorize individuals whose statements affirm rather than deny justice.  This hypothesis was upheld in three experiments (total n > 400).  Experiment 1 presented participants with fictional stimulus persons who privately think the world treats them justly or unjustly, and (orthogonally) tend to publicly state that life treats them fairly or unfairly.  Independent of their private beliefs, targets who outwardly affirmed (vs. denied) justice were rated as more warm, trustworthy, competent, and likely to exert a positive influence on others.  Experiment 2 replicated these effects when stimulus persons talked about a specific aspect of their lives (e.g., their salary or grades).  These effects are magnified when target speakers are low in status – for example when they are women rather than men (Experiment 1) or poor rather than rich (Experiment 3).  This status effect occurs not because lower status speakers are seen to be more qualified, authoritative, or objective when they affirm justice. Rather, it is mediated by the perception that lower status speakers’ affirmations of justice do more to promote social cohesion. The just world is not only a psychologically beneficial and thus psychologically defended mental representation – that is, a “fundamental delusion” (Lerner, 1980).  The present results suggest that it is also a “fundamental collusion” – that is, a public representation that is (in immediately proximal respects) socially beneficial and thus socially defended.