Justice, fairness, legitimacy, and discrimination

What shapes our views of the legitimacy and fairness of the organizations, institutions, and political systems in which we participate? Though it may be tempting to assume these beliefs are purely a function of calculated, rational assessments of how these social, organizational, and political systems align with the standards we hold for them, my research shows that is often not the case. In this line of research, I examine the motives that lead people to judge organizations and systems as legitimate and fair (i.e., system justification, belief in a just world, compensatory control) as well as the ways in which they accomplish this (i.e., stereotyping, motivated reasoning).   

Also within this line of work, I have a strong interest in understanding the barriers and impediments to achieving positive social change. Specifically, I study the social and psychological  processes—whether they may be stereotypes, attitudes, or even subtle differences in language—that can prevent discriminated groups from achieving equality, the endorsement of policies that seek to encourage change, and the like.

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The origins and functions of ideology

Ideologies—whether social, political, or supernatural—pervade our understanding of the physical and social world. I am deeply interested in understanding what gives rise to these ideologies and what, if any, psychological function they serve. While social scientists interested in the psychology of ideology often approach this topic by examining the consequences of holding one ideology or another (for example: What health outcomes are associated with religious belief? How does political orientation predict views toward inequality?), I tackle this topic instead via theoretical and experimental paradigms that seek to explain what strengthens specific ideological positions. What, for example, causes people to become more or less religious, endorse beliefs in supernatural causation, adopt specific political or sociopolitical beliefs, and prefer certain policies over others?

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The societal manifestations of needs for personal control

The human motive for control—that is, the desire to see whatever happens to you, good or bad, as under your own control—has long been of interest to psychologists. How do people maintain this belief, especially given the extent to which daily existence exposes us to all kinds of events and outcomes that are clearly “out of our control”? One way that we do so, I have posited in a theory of compensatory control, is by imbuing the social and physical world with predictability and structure; only when we see the world around us as structured and predictable can we then see ourselves as being able to control our environment. This rather straightforward hypothesis—that is, that perceptions of the broader social and physical world can be used to maintain beliefs in personal control—can help explain how a myriad of beliefs arise. For example, my research and the research of others has connected control motives to belief in God, preferences of social hierarchy, political attitudes, beliefs about science and society, scapegoating, and more.

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