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The politics of inequality and the inequality of politics

Society for Personality and Social Psychology

Economic inequality is at historic highs. The wealthiest 1% own 40% of the nation's wealth. This staggering inequality raises the question, what are the psychological causes and effects of inequality?

A symposium at SPSP's Annual Convention presented four talks on how subjective construals of inequality and status shape political motivations, beliefs, and behaviors. The symposium featured four presentations:

Subjective Socioeconomic Status Shapes Political Preferences

Jazmin Brown-Iannuzzi, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Research has found that when people shifted their attitudes toward redistribution, they also shifted ideological positions. They reported being more conservative or liberal, and believing that the economic system was more or less just, presumably to justify their (new) attitudes toward redistribution.

The Undervalued Self: Social Class Rank and Political Action

Michael W. Kraus, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

This presentation investigates experimental evidence that tests whether perceptions of low status in social class hierarchy decrease political self-efficacy and engagement in political action. The findings highlight the fundamental role that self-evaluative processes play in leading low status members of society to withdraw from the political system and fight less for their own social and economic interests.

Lack of Awareness of Inequality Leads to Punishment of the Poor

Oliver Hauser, Harvard Business School

Many societies have seen income inequality rise in recent years, yet research shows that people are largely unaware of this increase. Lack of awareness of the current level of income inequality may lead people to punish poorer individuals for their relatively smaller contributions to the public good (such as taxes paid), due to a lack of awareness of their limited means.

The Tolerance of Inequality: Psychological Needs for Control and Social Hierarchies

Justin P. Friesen, York University

Research shows being in a hierarchical workplace was associated with increased occupational certainty and self-efficacy. These effects occurred even for individuals in lower positions in the hierarchy. Friesen discusses how disadvantaged individuals may be unwilling to question social hierarchies that justify inequality if those hierarchies are serving unmet psychological needs for structure.


The full abstracts of the presentations are available online.

If you missed this session at SPSP's Annual Convention in Long Beach, California, a video for each presentation in this symposium is available online on SPSP's YouTube Channel:

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