Ideology selectively shapes attention to inequality

Hannah B. Waldfogel, Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington, Oliver P. Hauser, Arnold K. Ho, Nour S. Kteily

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Contemporary debates about addressing inequality require a common, accurate understanding of the scope of the issue at hand. Yet little is known about who notices inequality in the world around them and when. Across five studies (N = 8,779) employing various paradigms, we consider the role of ideological beliefs about the desirability of social equality in shaping individuals' attention to-and accuracy in detecting-inequality across the class, gender, and racial domains. In Study 1, individuals higher (versus lower) on social egalitarianism were more likely to naturalistically remark on inequality when shown photographs of urban scenes. In Study 2, social egalitarians were more accurate at differentiating between equal versus unequal distributions of resources between men and women on a basic cognitive task. In Study 3, social egalitarians were faster to notice inequalityrelevant changes in images in a change detection paradigm indexing basic attentional processes. In Studies 4 and 5, we varied whether unequal treatment adversely affected groups at the top or bottom of society. In Study 4, social egalitarians were, on an incentivized task, more accurate at detecting inequality in speaking time in a panel discussion that disadvantaged women but not when inequality disadvantaged men. In Study 5, social egalitarians were more likely to naturalistically point out bias in a pattern detection hiring task when the employer was biased against minorities but not when majority group members faced equivalent bias. Our results reveal the nuances in how our ideological beliefs shape whether we accurately notice inequality, with implications for prospects for addressing it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2023985118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number14
StatePublished - Apr 6 2021


  • Attention
  • Egalitarianism
  • Ideology
  • Inequality
  • Politics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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