The effects of social pressures on decision-making about the issue of legitimacy, or whether to allow a social expectation to control one's actions, are not well understood. Prior research suggests that there are three domains of social pressure to comply with social expectations - self-, group-, and institution-oriented. After reconciling existing literature on the two possible logics of legitimation, through demonstrating that the logic of habitus (routinized experience and habitual behavior) rather than praxis (active, cost-benefit analysis) accounts for object salience, this research proposes that social pressures differentially trigger associated cognitive frames within the social actor, and that these frames guide the actor's subsequent decisions.
In addition to explaining how differential pressures guide decision-making, these three domains give insight into the original emergence of the process of legitimation, by uncovering the underlying mechanisms of how social actors' decisions are affected by increasing social complexity and diversification. This is important to the study of legitimacy, as most micro-social examinations of the topic have failed to recognize the importance of keying and cognitive framing of experiences, as well as social-environmental pressures, when making decisions about what is legitimate and thus binding upon one's actions.
This research builds on previous work in legitimacy theory, identity theory, and framing, as well as findings in moral and cognitive psychology, to combine the concept of the cognitive frame with the concepts of salience and activation from identity theory. Its methodology draws on previous theoretical and empirical findings on the rationales people use to legitimate social objects.
Through the use of a modified spontaneous trait inference methodology, this research finds that the salience of the social pressures embodied in social objects to an actor's specific concerns prompts activation of an associated cognitive frame, which in turn shapes the justification for legitimation of the social object. Additionally, this research demonstrates that respondents differentially prioritize frames when prompted with a multi-domain stimulus. Finally, this research shows that compared to outside stimuli and frame activation, most demographic characteristics are less effective at explaining frame activation and decision-making.