Another way that individuals can reach beyond their current experience is to adopt and defend widely-shared beliefs, such as those that bolster the apparent fairness of existing social hierarchies. In another line of research, we focus on when and why people are particularly likely to endorse these shared beliefs about social structure.
For instance, in one set of studies, we predicted and found a pro-meritocracy bias in participants’ evaluations of scientific evidence that supported or opposed a link between hard work and success in society, suggesting that people selectively process information in a way that allows them to sustain shared beliefs in the fairness of the social system. Subsequent studies demonstrated that individuals will alter their behavior, not just their thinking, in order to defend the meritocratic link between hard work and success in society (Ledgerwood, Mandisodza, Jost, & Pohl, 2011). In another series of experiments, we found that social exclusion can lead people to increasingly endorse these meritocratic beliefs as they seek to reestablish a threatened sense of predictability and order in their social world (Hess & Ledgerwood, in press).
Hess, Y. D., & Ledgerwood, A. (2014). Bolstering system-justifying beliefs in response to social exclusion. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 17, 494-508.
Ledgerwood, A., Mandisodza, A. N., Jost, J. T., & Pohl, M. (2011). Working for the system: Motivated defense of meritocratic beliefs. Social Cognition, 3,322-340.
Jost, J. T., Ledgerwood, A., & Hardin, C. D. (2008). Shared reality, system justification, and the relational basis of ideological beliefs. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2, 171-186.