How status quo bias blocks political change

Studies carried out in diverse settings demonstrate that system justification engenders resistance to personal and social change. In the United States, political conservatives—and high economic system justifiers—often down-play environmental problems such as climate change and accept false statements about scientific evidence, as we saw in the last chapter. In Finland, perceptions of climate change as threatening to the national system predicted general system justification and justification of the Finnish food distribution system in particular (Vainio et al., 2014). In Australia, economic system justification was associated with a lack of engagement with environmental issues and decreased support for pro-environmental initiatives (Leviston & Walker, 2014).

Craig McGarty and colleagues (2014) have put their finger on a key problem facing opposition movements, namely “the taint of illegitimacy that comes from attacking a national government that is wrapped in national symbols, controls national institutions, and … represents critics as being disloyal to the nation” (p. 729). This formulation of the problem is highly conducive to a system justification analysis because backlash against protestors often reflects system-defensive motivation (e.g., Langet et al., 2019; Rudman et al., 2012; Yeung et al., 2014). Members of mainstream society are typically suspicious of those who challenge the status quo, and their backlash intensifies in response to system criticism. Nevertheless, system justification motivation can be harnessed to promote social change, as we saw in the preceding chapter, and justice critiques may help delegitimize the status quo over longer time periods. Furthermore, the promotion of utopian thinking about alternatives to the status quo appears to undermine system justification motivation while strengthening commitment to social change (Badaan et al., in press; Fernando et al., 2018).

Jost, John T. A Theory of System Justification. Harvard University Press, 2020. p. 267-8

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

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