Research Lead: Social Psychology


“Social Class Rank, Essentialism, and Punitive Judgment”

[Social Psychology]

Born on third base and thought you hit a triple. A recent study by Kraus and Keltner showed that individuals who perceived themselves as higher in social class rank tended to understand their elevated position in essentialist terms. That is, high social rank individuals tended to believe that differences in social standing can be explained by natural or inherent factors, rather than the social-situation context. This effect held, even for participants whose perception of their social class rank was experimentally manipulated to be relatively higher, which, the researchers suggest, points to an initial causal link between high class rank and the tendency to adopt essentialist beliefs about social class. Kraus and Keltner also demonstrated that individuals who were more likely to explain social rank in terms of natural ability, were less likely to favor restorative justice, the idea that criminals should be rehabilitated, as opposed to retributive justice, which is based on the idea of deterrents. This research has implications for how people perceive social mobility and class, and the researchers pose a question for future research: “Do essentialist beliefs in social hierarchy underlie current punishment practices in the United States?”

“The meaning and role of ideology in system justification and resistance for high- and low-status people”

[Social Psychology]

The American Dream, touting equality, meritocracy, and democracy, is still very much alive, though it remains, as always, just that: a dream. In a series of three studies, published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Zimmerman & Reyna found that participants still endorsed those quintessentially-American ideals, but participants also felt like actual society is currently falling short of attaining them. The difference between the actual and the idealized was pronounced in lower socio-economic participants, who perceived a bigger difference between the two than participants with higher incomes. Interestingly, however, lower-income participants tended to affirm the existing system at least as strongly, if not more so, than their wealthier counterparts.  Previous research has been taken this as evidence of a system justification that sustains inequality. Zimmerman & Reyna instead argue that idealized belief endorsement among the low-income group represents holding an existing and imperfect system to its higher aspirations. Though this only looks at financial divisions, this research suggests that underprivileged and oppressed groups may support the ideals of a failing system without endorsing its faulty actualization.