Working for the system: Motivated defense of meritocratic beliefs

Alison Ledgerwood, Anesu N. Mandisodza, John Jost, Michelle J. Pohl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Conceptualizing the widespread belief in meritocracy as a case of system justification, we examined how the desire to justify the societal status quo motivates cognitive and behavioral defense of the notion that hard work leads to success. Experiment 1 demonstrated that participants judged objectively equivalent evidence as better in quality when it led to a conclusion that supported (vs. challenged) a link between hard work and success in American society, and that this pro-meritocracy bias in judgment increased following system threat. Experiment 2 tested a paradoxical implication for behavior: Participants defended the system by working harder when they were told that success on the task was due to luck (vs. effort), but only when the task was perceived to be system-relevant. In Experiment 3, this pattern replicated even for participants who did not explicitly endorse a personal belief in meritocracy. Taken together, these results suggest that meritocratic beliefs serve to justify the social system and elucidate the cognitive and behavioral mechanisms used to defend such beliefs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)322-340
Number of pages19
JournalSocial Cognition
Volume29
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

Cite this

Working for the system : Motivated defense of meritocratic beliefs. / Ledgerwood, Alison; Mandisodza, Anesu N.; Jost, John; Pohl, Michelle J.

In: Social Cognition, Vol. 29, No. 3, 2011, p. 322-340.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Ledgerwood, Alison ; Mandisodza, Anesu N. ; Jost, John ; Pohl, Michelle J. / Working for the system : Motivated defense of meritocratic beliefs. In: Social Cognition. 2011 ; Vol. 29, No. 3. pp. 322-340.
@article{a2a2dc70ad3148b481515ffbe6ee37c6,
title = "Working for the system: Motivated defense of meritocratic beliefs",
abstract = "Conceptualizing the widespread belief in meritocracy as a case of system justification, we examined how the desire to justify the societal status quo motivates cognitive and behavioral defense of the notion that hard work leads to success. Experiment 1 demonstrated that participants judged objectively equivalent evidence as better in quality when it led to a conclusion that supported (vs. challenged) a link between hard work and success in American society, and that this pro-meritocracy bias in judgment increased following system threat. Experiment 2 tested a paradoxical implication for behavior: Participants defended the system by working harder when they were told that success on the task was due to luck (vs. effort), but only when the task was perceived to be system-relevant. In Experiment 3, this pattern replicated even for participants who did not explicitly endorse a personal belief in meritocracy. Taken together, these results suggest that meritocratic beliefs serve to justify the social system and elucidate the cognitive and behavioral mechanisms used to defend such beliefs.",
author = "Alison Ledgerwood and Mandisodza, {Anesu N.} and John Jost and Pohl, {Michelle J.}",
year = "2011",
doi = "10.1521/soco.2011.29.3.322",
language = "English (US)",
volume = "29",
pages = "322--340",
journal = "Social Cognition",
issn = "0278-016X",
publisher = "Guilford Publications",
number = "3",

}

TY - JOUR

T1 - Working for the system

T2 - Motivated defense of meritocratic beliefs

AU - Ledgerwood, Alison

AU - Mandisodza, Anesu N.

AU - Jost, John

AU - Pohl, Michelle J.

PY - 2011

Y1 - 2011

N2 - Conceptualizing the widespread belief in meritocracy as a case of system justification, we examined how the desire to justify the societal status quo motivates cognitive and behavioral defense of the notion that hard work leads to success. Experiment 1 demonstrated that participants judged objectively equivalent evidence as better in quality when it led to a conclusion that supported (vs. challenged) a link between hard work and success in American society, and that this pro-meritocracy bias in judgment increased following system threat. Experiment 2 tested a paradoxical implication for behavior: Participants defended the system by working harder when they were told that success on the task was due to luck (vs. effort), but only when the task was perceived to be system-relevant. In Experiment 3, this pattern replicated even for participants who did not explicitly endorse a personal belief in meritocracy. Taken together, these results suggest that meritocratic beliefs serve to justify the social system and elucidate the cognitive and behavioral mechanisms used to defend such beliefs.

AB - Conceptualizing the widespread belief in meritocracy as a case of system justification, we examined how the desire to justify the societal status quo motivates cognitive and behavioral defense of the notion that hard work leads to success. Experiment 1 demonstrated that participants judged objectively equivalent evidence as better in quality when it led to a conclusion that supported (vs. challenged) a link between hard work and success in American society, and that this pro-meritocracy bias in judgment increased following system threat. Experiment 2 tested a paradoxical implication for behavior: Participants defended the system by working harder when they were told that success on the task was due to luck (vs. effort), but only when the task was perceived to be system-relevant. In Experiment 3, this pattern replicated even for participants who did not explicitly endorse a personal belief in meritocracy. Taken together, these results suggest that meritocratic beliefs serve to justify the social system and elucidate the cognitive and behavioral mechanisms used to defend such beliefs.

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=79959974476&partnerID=8YFLogxK

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/citedby.url?scp=79959974476&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.1521/soco.2011.29.3.322

DO - 10.1521/soco.2011.29.3.322

M3 - Article

AN - SCOPUS:79959974476

VL - 29

SP - 322

EP - 340

JO - Social Cognition

JF - Social Cognition

SN - 0278-016X

IS - 3

ER -