chapter  15
14 Pages

Psychological Implications of Attitudes and Beliefs About Status Inequality

In virtually all societies, inequalities exist among social groups in the distribution of tangible and intangible social goods such as access to food, medical care, shelter, respect, and power. An enduring question for political philosophers, sociologists, and psychologists concerns how these inequalities are maintained and perpetuated. Shared attitudes and beliefs about why status inequalities exist (i.e., status ideologies) are an essential element of this process (Jost & Banaji, 1994; Major, 1994; Major & Schmader, 2001; Sidanius & Pratto, 1993). Status ideologies explain status differences among individuals and groups, proscribe rules for gaining status, and frequently justify the status quo (Jost & Banaji, 1994; Major, 1994). We begin this chapter by briey reviewing research on status ideologies and discussing the role that meritocracy-the dominant status ideology in many Western capitalist societies such as the United States-plays in legitimizing inequalities in contemporary Western societies. We then discuss how endorsement or rejection of this ideology shapes people’s affective and physiological reactions to disadvantage and prejudice directed against themselves or their social groups. Collectively, the research reviewed here indicates that culturally shared attitudes and beliefs about the causes of status inequality in society exert an important effect on individual psychological processes, shaping affective reactions to prejudice against one’s social group, and physiological responses during interactions with members of higher status groups.