College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

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system justification, ideology, status, belief systems


America is regarded as the land of opportunity, a nation in which anyone can make a name for him or herself. Individual freedom or individualism is considered the cornerstone of our nation’s values. As an ideal then, Americans, regardless of race, class, gender, ability, and sexual orientation, should be able to achieve their dreams if they work hard. But do Americans believe that everyone has an equal chance of achieving the American dream if only they work hard? System justification theory asserts that people rationalize the status quo and perceive it as inevitable, fair, and just. Moreover, the theory claims that people sometimes uphold the system, even when doing so may pose a threat to individual and group interests. One way people appear to justify the system is through the endorsement of ideologies. Many of the ideological scales used to measure system justification typically measure people's endorsement of abstract ideals rather than their assessment of whether the ideals are being upheld. Two studies tested whether people of high and low status endorse ideologies because they represent American ideals and whether they believe that the ideals are being achieved. Results showed that people value American ideologies when framed as abstract ideals but perceive that America is failing to achieve its ideals. Also, high status members were more motivated than low status members to endorse ideologies as a means to legitimize the status quo. Low status members were more dissatisfied with America and more supportive of public policies benefiting low status groups than high status members. Results also showed that high and low status members would use connections and support bailout plans that prioritized individual and group interests over system interests. High status members, however, supported tax policy when it prioritized group and system interests over individual interests. These studies suggest that people do believe in the goals of American systems, replicating system justification research. However, people, especially of low status, do not believe that these goals are being fulfilled.