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Bolstering system-justifying beliefs in response to social exclusion

  • Author(s): Hess, YD;
  • Ledgerwood, A
  • et al.

Integrating research on social exclusion with the broader literature on system justification and flexible responses to threats, we propose a novel coping strategy that individuals may use in the face of social exclusion. In particular, we suggest that because exclusion often feels unexpected, it will lead individuals to bolster the system-justifying worldview that people get what they deserve, as excluded individuals attempt to cognitively cope with the threatened order and predictability of their world. Supporting our prediction, in Study 1, social exclusion (vs. inclusion) led participants to increasingly endorse descriptive meritocratic beliefs suggesting that hard work leads to success in society. This effect was mediated by the perceived unexpectedness of the interaction outcome, providing key evidence for our hypothesized process. Study 2 used individual differences in rejection sensitivity to provide further support for our unexpectedness account, demonstrating that exclusion heightens meritocratic beliefs only insofar as participants tend to find exclusions unexpected. The results expand our understanding of the cognitive mechanisms by which people cope with social exclusion and highlight the malleability of system-justifying ideologies in response to interpersonal factors. © 2013, SAGE Publications. All rights reserved.

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