The effects of system-justifying motives on endorsement of essentialist explanations for gender differences


Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

December 2013, vol. 105, n°6, pp.891-908

Departments: Management & Human Resources

Keywords: Biological essentialism, Essentialism, Gender, Stereotyping, System justification

People have a fundamental motive to view their social system as just, fair, and good and will engage in a number of strategies to rationalize the status quo (Jost & Banaji, 1994). We propose that one way in which individuals may "justify the system" is through endorsement of essentialist explanations, which attribute group differences to deep, essential causes. We suggest that system-justifying motives lead to greater endorsement of essentialist explanations because those explanations portray group differences as immutable. Study 1 employed an established system threat manipulation. We found that activating system-justifying motives increases both male and female participants' endorsement of essentialist explanations for gender differences and that this effect is mediated by beliefs in immutability. In Study 2, we used a goal contagion manipulation and found that both male and female participants primed with a system-justifying goal are significantly more likely to agree with essentialist explanations for gender differences. Study 3 demonstrated that providing an opportunity to explicitly reject a system threat (an alternative means of satisfying the goal to defend the system) attenuates system threat effects on endorsement of essentialist explanations, further suggesting that this process is motivated. Finally, Studies 4a and 4b dissociated the type of cause (biological vs. social) from whether group differences are portrayed as mutable versus immutable and found that system threat increases endorsement of immutable explanations, independent of the type of cause