A quarter century of system justification theory: Questions, answers, criticisms, and societal applications

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A theory of system justification was proposed 25 years ago by Jost and Banaji (1994, Br. J. Soc. Psychol., 33, 1) in the British Journal of Social Psychology to explain ‘the participation by disadvantaged individuals and groups in negative stereotypes of themselves' and the phenomenon of outgroup favouritism. The scope of the theory was subsequently expanded to account for a much wider range of outcomes, including appraisals of fairness, justice, legitimacy, deservingness, and entitlement; spontaneous and deliberate social judgements about individuals, groups, and events; and full-fledged political and religious ideologies. According to system justification theory, people are motivated (to varying degrees, depending upon situational and dispositional factors) to defend, bolster, and justify aspects of existing social, economic, and political systems. Engaging in system justification serves the palliative function of increasing satisfaction with the status quo and addresses underlying epistemic, existential, and relational needs to reduce uncertainty, threat, and social discord. This article summarizes the major tenets of system justification theory, reviews some of the empirical evidence supporting it, answers new (and old) questions and criticisms, and highlights areas of societal relevance and directions for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)263-314
Number of pages52
JournalBritish Journal of Social Psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • intergroup relations
  • legitimacy
  • political ideology
  • social justice
  • system justification theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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