Spreading rationalization: Increased support for large-scale and small-scale social systems following system threat

Cheryl J. Wakslak, John T. Jost, Patrick Bauer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


System justification theory suggests that individuals defend and rationalize aspects of prevailing social systems, especially in response to system threat. In two experiments we extend this framework by demonstrating that people rationalize small-scale social systems (e.g., local popularity hierarchies and the nuclear family) as well as large-scale social systems (e.g., American society). Furthermore, we find that system threat leads people to bolster not only the legitimacy of the social system that is directly threatened but also the legitimacy of systems at other levels of analysis. These results provide evidence of spreading rationalization, suggesting that people respond defensively to other social systems when one system that they belong to is criticized or attacked.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)288-302
Number of pages15
JournalSocial Cognition
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 11 2011


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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