By John T. Jost and Diana Burgess

Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, March 2000, Vol. 26 Issue 3, pp. 293-305.

It is argued that members of low status groups are faced with a psychological conflict between group justification tendencies to evaluate members of one's own group favorably and system justification tendencies to endorse the superiority of higher status outgroups. In Study 1, members of low status groups exhibited less ingroup favoritism and more ingroup ambivalence than did members of high status groups. Perceptions that the status differences were legitimate increased outgroup favoritism and ambivalence among low status groups, and they increased ingroup favoritism and decreased ambivalence among high status groups. In Study 2, the belief in a just world and social dominance orientation increased ambivalence on the part of women toward female victims of gender discrimination, but they decreased ambivalence on the part of men. Evidence here indicates that system-justifying variables increase ingroup ambivalence among low status group members and decrease ambivalence among high status group members.




In an experimental study, University of Maryland students received bogus information suggesting that University of Maryland alumni (the ingroup) achieve either greater or lesser socioeconomic success (as measured by average postcollege financial incomes, career advancement, status of professions entered, and admissions to graduate and professional schools) than do University of Virginia alumni (the outgroup). Participants were asked to complete evaluative ratings of the ingroup and the outgroup, along with a measure of perceived legitimacy of the system of socioeconomic success differences, to assess the effects of socioeconomic status and perceived legitimacy on ambivalence toward the ingroup and on ingroup versus outgroup favoritism.



One hundred and thirty-one University of Maryland students volunteered for the experiment to satisfy a course requirement for introductory psychology. Of the 118 participants who disclosed gender information, 61 were female and 57 were male. Participation took place in groups that ranged in size from 6 to 11 persons. Before arriving, people knew only the duration and title of the experiment, which was billed as "The Inter-Collegiate Study of Abstract Thought."


Overview. Every participant received an experimental booklet that contained all of the following: (a) a cover sheet explaining the ostensible purpose of the study, which was to compare Maryland and Virginia students on a variety of dimensions related to verbal reasoning and socioeconomic success; (b) a table of data allegedly demonstrating the existence of socioeconomic success differences between graduates of Maryland and Virginia; (c) a scale measuring perceptions of legitimacy of the socioeconomic success differences; (d) a task of abstract verbal reasoning in which participants evaluated the quality of several thought lists, strengthening the credibility of the cover story; and (e) measures of evaluative beliefs about Maryland and Virginia student populations, from which ingroup favoritism and ingroup ambivalence could be calculated.

Independent Variable Manipulations

Manipulation of socioeconomic success. Shortly after their arrival, participants were informed that the study in which they were about to participate was part of a larger research project involving other public universities (such as the University of Virginia) and that the aim of the research was "to understand why differences in social and economic success exist between graduates of different colleges and universities." Approximately half of the participants (n = 62) read statistics indicating that Maryland graduates were significantly less successful in terms of socioeconomic achievement than were Virginia graduates (low status condition), whereas the statistics read by the other half (n = 69) indicated that Maryland students were significantly more successful than Virginia graduates (high status condition). The statistics included information concerning average financial income, career advancement and promotions, status of professions entered, rates of admission to graduate and professional schools, and years of postgraduate education completed (see Jost, in press).

Dependent Measures

Check on the manipulation of socioeconomic success. Soon after being informed about the alleged socioeconomic differences between Maryland and Virginia graduates, participants were asked to respond to the following question: "Do you think that Maryland students' social and economic success is greater or less than that of Virginia students?" Respondents were asked to circle a number on a 15-point scale ranging from much less to much greater.

Perceptions of legitimacy. Participants were asked how fair or unfair, how justifiable or unjustifiable, and how legitimate or illegitimate the socioeconomic success differences between Maryland and Virginia graduates were. All of these ratings were made on 15-point scales ranging from extremely unfair to extremely fair. A general index of perceived legitimacy was calculated by averaging across the three items (Cronbach's Alpha = .71).

Ambivalence toward the ingroup. To measure ambivalence toward the ingroup, participants were asked to indicate how intelligent and how unintelligent, how hardworking and how lazy, how skilled and how unskilled at verbal reasoning, how friendly and how unfriendly, how honest and how dishonest, and how interesting and how uninteresting each of the two groups are in general. All evaluations were made on rating scales ranging from 0 (not at all) to 9 (extremely). By eliciting independent judgments of favorable and unfavorable poles for each attribute, it was possible to calculate three different measures of ambivalence (see Priester & Petty, 1996; Thompson et al., 1995).

Following Priester and Petty (1996), dominant (D) and conflicting (C) attitudinal components were identified for each pair of trait ratings (e.g., intelligent vs. unintelligent). For example, if the ingroup received a 7 for the rating of intelligent and a 4 for the rating of unintelligent, then D = 7 and C = 4. The three methods of calculating ambivalence (SIM, CRM, and GTM) are presented below. (For elaborations and derivations of these formulae, see Priester and Petty [1996] .)