Cognitive Social Psychology: The Princeton Symposium on the Legacy and Future of Social Cognition

By Gordon B. Moskowitz | Go to book overview

6
John T. Jost
Stanford University

Outgroup Favoritism and the Theory of System Justification: A Paradigm for Investigating the Effects of Socioeconomic Success on Stereotype Content

And in the moment you are born since you don't know any better, every stick and stone and every face is white, and since you have not yet seen a mirror, you suppose that you are, too. It comes as a great shock around the age of 5 or 6 or 7 to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you. It comes as a great surprise that Gary Cooper killing off the Indians, when you were rooting for Gary Cooper … that the Indians were you.(Interview with James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket)

It is not only the discipline of psychology that has undergone a cognitive revolution in the latter half of the 20th century. Social science in general has shifted toward an increased reliance on mental states and processes in explaining the behaviors of individuals and groups. Sociologists and political scientists, for example, have focused more and more on expectations, attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, decisions, and judgments in explaining such diverse phenomena as political socialization, group dynamics, voting behavior, and other responses to structures of status, power, and prestige (e.g., Berger & Zelditch, 1998; Howard, 1994; Iyengar & McGuire, 1993; Ridgeway, 2001). Anthropologists, too, have moved increasingly toward beliefs, construals, interpretations, and other intentional states in their descriptions of cultural systems and practices (e.g., Geertz, 1983; Shweder & LeVine, 1984; Sperber, 1990). Even philosophers have adopted the language of cognitive science to the point where traditional metaphysical and epistemological approaches have almost disappeared (e.g., Goldman, 1988; Kornblith, 1994; Solomon, 1992).

In the field of organizational behavior, social-cognitive constructs such as attributions, accounts, scripts, and justifications have been used to shed light on such applied topics as job satisfaction, division of labor, employee relations, task design, and corporate strategy (e.g., Baron & Pfeifer, 1994; Martin, 1982; Salancik & Pfeifer, 1978; Weick, 1993). Neo-institutionalist theories of organizations have further analyzed the ways in which ideas and symbols are used to structure and legitimate business cultures and spread influence (e.g., Powell & DiMaggio, 1990). Somewhat improbably given the subject matter, cognitive theories of social movements and revolutions have become paradigmatic (e.g., Eyerman & Jamison, 1991; Moore, 1978; Snow & Oliver, 1995), even among Marxist scholars, who are traditionally among the least individualistic of social theorists (e.g., Elster, 1985). These intellectual developments, spread as they are across a variety of disciplines, mean that constructs such as attitudes, thoughts, and beliefs have proved useful indeed for explaining behavior that clearly falls outside of the original domain of cognitive psychology—in this case, behavior that is collective, coordinated, and downright political.

More precisely, one might say that in the post-cognitive revolution world, sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, political scientists, and organizational theorists all accept the fundamental assumption that social systems are maintained at least in part through attitudes and beliefs that support them. In the language of social cognition, researchers would say that conscious and unconscious thought processes play a pivotal role in the acceptance or rejection of particular social and political forms (Jost, 1995). One variable in particular, the appraisal of legitimacy, has emerged as an important social-psychological predictor of responses to inequality (e.g., Major, 1994; J. Martin, 1993; Tajfel & Turner, 1986; Tyler, 1997). Historical and ethnographic studies make abundantly clear that, in the absence of militant or totalitarian rule, authorities, procedures, and social arrangements are stable and enduring to the extent that they are perceived as having legitimacy (e.g., Gurr, 1970; Moore, 1978). Inequality among groups and individuals is accepted and perpetuated, even by those who stand to lose the most from it, so long as it is perceived as fair and legitimate. This is one of the starting points of the theory

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