People want to maintain status quo. Most prior research concern groups with real status differences. Pro/con status quo position may itself carry status information. Three studies explored the effects of pro/con status quo position on biased perceptions of others. Challengers were more biased, regardless of real status differences.
The default ideological position is status quo maintaining (Skitka et al. 2002). Most prior research concerns groups with real status differences, such as majority/minority status (Jost et. al., 2004). In general, people tend to ascribe more favourable reasons for the attitude position of those who agree vs. disagree with oneself (Kenworthy & Miller, 2002, Reeder et al., 2004), but perceptions of others may vary as a function of power position, such that the powerful are more biased than the powerless (Guinote et al, 2002). It has been argued that defenders of the status quo perceive a greater sense of power than challengers (De Dreu et al, 2008), and thus defenders should be more biased than challengers. However, as challengers are opposing the default position, they may experience threat, which has been shown to increase biases (Stephan et. al., 2002) and a need to justify own position. Thus, it seems possible that pro/con status quo position may carry status information separate from real intergroup status differences. In three studies, we explored how defenders and challengers of the status quo perceive those who agreed and disagreed with their position, trying to separate the effects of pro/con status quo position from status position (e. g. majority/minority). In Study 1, participants stated own preferred alternative on a controversial issue (whether wearing religious symbols should be prohibited in schools or not) and rated the origins of preferences of those who agreed and disagreed. Challengers of the status quo were more biased than defenders, such that they ascribed more favourable origins of preferences of those who agreed as opposed to disagreed with them than did defenders. In reality, though, challengers were in minority. Hence, in Study 2, majority/minority status of pro/con status quo position was manipulated, such that participants were informed about the majority/minority status of their own preference position in one of several randomly assigned attitude issues (e.g., gay couples’ right to child adoption, prohibition of religious symbols in schools). Results showed that majority/minority information did not affect biases, but pro/con status quo position did, such that challengers were again more biased than defenders. Again, in reality, challengers were in fact in minority. Thus, in a final study, challengers were in reality in majority (on the issue of whether teachers’ should be allowed to confiscate students’ disturbing cell phones during class hours). Again, challengers were more biased even though they in reality were in majority. To conclude, it seems that real status differences are not needed for biased perceptions of others, but rather perceived status differences implied by pro/con status quo position is decisive. This is an important finding as it implies that people who want to change the current situation may feel threatened and hence refrain from expressing their attitudes, although their opinion may actually be shared by a majority. This could have deteriorating effects for an evolving society, where people feel powerless over their situation. Future research should examine what characteristics may be prevalent among those who actually express their challenging opinions.
2009. 215-215 p.
21st Annual Convention of the Association for Psychological Science, San Francisco, 2009