My Country Right or Wrong

Ideological differences in nationalism and patriotism are well-known and frequently exploited, but the question of why conservatives exhibit stronger national attachment than liberals has been inadequately addressed.

Drawing on theories of system justification and political ideology as motivated social cognition, we proposed that increased patriotic attachment is one means of satisfying system justification goals. Thus, we hypothesized that temporarily activating system justification motivation should raise national attachment among liberals to the level of conservatives. Three experiments conducted in New York, Arkansas, and Wisconsin support this hypothesis.

In the first two experiments, liberals exhibited weaker national attachment than conservatives in the absence of system justification activation, consistent with prior research. However, exposure to system criticism (Experiment 1) and system-level injustice (Experiment 2) caused liberals to exhibit stronger national attachment, eliminating the ideological gap. Using a system dependence manipulation in Experiment 3, this pattern was conceptually replicated with respect to patriotic but not nationalistic attachment, as hypothesized. Thus, chronic and temporary variability in system justification motivation helps to explain when liberals and conservatives do (and do not) differ in terms of national attachment and why.

Download the paper: Van der Toorn, J., Nail, P. R., Liviatan, I., Jost, J. T. (2014). My country, right or wrong: Does activating system justification motivation eliminate the liberal-conservative gap in patriotism? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 54, 50-60.


From Offense to Defense

We examined the effect of two types of threat on political attitudes in a study of 183 New York City high school students.

Participants read one of three newspaper passages: (1) a system-related threat passage that described flaws in the American social, economic, and political system; (2) a self-related threat passage that described the deleterious effects of cell phone use; or (3) a control passage that described house plant cultivation. Participants then completed a system justification scale followed by a measure of political orientation. Results revealed that a threat to the system (but not the self) increased system justification as well as self-reported conservatism, and that the effect of system threat on conservatism was mediated by system justification. Thus, system justification theory may help to explain when and why individuals are drawn to conservative ideas following exposure to system-related threats.

In preparation: Van der Toorn, J., Jost, J. T., & Loffredo, B. (2016). System justification mediates the effect of system threat on conservative shift. Manuscript in preparation.