On the psychology of privilege [electronic resource] : merit and maintenance motives in the concealment of advantages
- L. Taylor Phillips.
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- 1 online resource.
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- Invisibility makes privilege powerful. Hard to notice and easy to deny, privilege perpetuates intergroup inequality by giving unearned advantages to certain groups. However, recent social movements (Occupy, Black Lives Matter protests) threaten this invisibility. I argue that a useful way to understand the psychology of privilege is through the lens of two critical motives: the merit motive and the maintenance motive. Together, these motives lead people to mobilize their advantages during competition in order to secure desired outcomes, but to conceal these advantages under the cloak of merit by construing their own actions differently. In Chapter 1, I suggest the privileged manage threats to their sense of merit by creating a false dichotomy between group and personal privilege: they accept group privilege exists, but deny personally benefiting. When exposed to evidence of privilege, the upper class and Whites claim more personal hardships (Experiments 1-3). Consistent with a merit motivation account, self-affirmation reverses this effect (Experiment 3). Importantly, self-affirmed participants acknowledge greater personal privilege, and as a result support inequality-reducing policies. In Chapter 2, I demonstrate these claims are motivated specifically be merit concerns: The privileged claim hardship (and effort) so they can continue attributing outcomes to their own merit. When they have or are provided alternatives to merit, however, they no longer claim hardships (Experiments 4-5). Further, when they first affirm evidence of personal merit (as compared to team accomplishments), they no longer claim hardship (Experiment 6). Finally, the privileged also claim personal effort in response to evidence of privilege, so long as that privilege is ingroup relevant (Experiment 7) and they have not previously been able to claim hardships as an alternate defense (Experiment 8). In Chapter 3, I explore the limits of the merit motive and how it interacts with a maintenance motive. That is, the privileged want to protect their sense of personal merit, but also want to protect the resources this privilege provides; how do they navigate the two? I find that the privileged construe their advantages strategically in ways that allow them to claim personal effort while maintaining the benefits. They deny that unearned advantage is advantageous (Experiments 9a-e) or is unearned (Experiments 10-11). Exploring the psychology of privilege enriches understanding of intergroup inequality, generating new avenues for interventions.
- Publication date
- Submitted to the Graduate School of Business.
- Thesis (Ph.D.)--Stanford University, 2016.
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