Complementary Justice: Effects of "Poor But Happy" and "Poor But Honest" Stereotype Exemplars on System Justification and Implicit Activation of the Justice Motive

By Aaron C. KayJohn T. Jost
2003| Working Paper No. 1753

In an integration of just world and system justification theories, it was hypothesized that exposure to complementary representations of the poor as happier and more honest than the rich would satisfy the justice motive and lead to an increase in support for the status quo. This hypothesis was corroborated in four experimental studies. In Study 1, it was demonstrated that exposure to poor but happy and rich but miserable stereotype exemplars led people to score higher on a general measure of system justification (SJ), compared to people who were exposed to non-complementary exemplars. Study 2 replicated this effect with poor but honest and rich but dishonest complementary stereotypes. In Studies 3 and 4, we found that exposure to non-complementary stereotype exemplars implicitly activated justice concerns, as indicated by faster reaction times to justice-related than neutral words in a lexical decision task. We also found that Protestant Work Ethic (PWE) moderated the effects of stereotype exposure on explicit SJ (but not implicit activation). The poor but happy exemplar was more effective at increasing SJ for people who scored low in PWE, whereas the poor but honest exemplar was more effective at increasing SJ for people who scored high in PWE.