System Justification Theory as Compliment, Complement, and Corrective to Theories of Social Identification and Social Dominance

By John T. Jost
2000| Working Paper No. 1672

System justification theory seeks to understand how and why people provide cognitive and ideological support for the status quo and what the social and psychological consequences of supporting the status quo are, especially for members of disadvantaged groups (e.g., Jost & Banaji, 1994; Jost & Burgess, 2000). Although system justification theorists have been influenced tremendously by theories of social identification and social dominance, these other theories underestimate the strength of system justification motives and the power of false consciousness to lead people to endorse system-serving beliefs that are contrary to their own social and political interests. In support of a strong, dissonance-based form of the system justification hypothesis but contrary to the other two theoretical accounts, evidence is presented that lower income respondents are more likely than high income respondents to support the social order and its authorities. Several additional limitations of social identity theory are reviewed, including the fact that it overemphasizes ingroup favoritism and neglects outgroup favoritism, it has been used to make inconsistent, contradictory predictions regarding the effects of status on intergroup behavior, it provides no theoretically satisfying account of why low status group members would perceive the system to be legitimate and stable or why they would accept the constraints of “social reality”, and it has contributed little to our empirical understanding of ideology and the systemic level of analysis. Social dominance theory is also criticized from a system justification standpoint, largely on the grounds that its sociobiological assumptions serve as a “legitimizing myth” for inequality and that the conceptualization of social dominance orientation conflates the distinction between group justification and system justification.