Internalization of inferiority and colonial system justification: The case of Puerto Rico

Eduardo J. Rivera Pichardo, John T. Jost, Verónica Benet-Martínez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Since the U.S. military invasion of Puerto Rico in 1898, the Caribbean island has been an “unincorporated territory” of the United States. Today, the island faces the worst economic, political, and humanitarian crisis in its modern history. Despite major disadvantages associated with the present situation, many Puerto Ricans continue to support U.S. hegemonic rule by either maintaining the territorial status quo or calling for a full annexation of Puerto Rico as a U.S. state. To better understand these attitudes, we synthesized insights from decolonial theory and system justification perspectives and administered surveys to 344 adults in San Juan, P.R. from 2017 to 2019. Results revealed that, as hypothesized, internalization of inferiority (outgroup favoritism) and epistemic motivation (need for cognitive closure) were associated with Puerto Ricans’ justification of the colonial system. Furthermore, colonial system justification was a significant mediator of the effects of internalization of inferiority and epistemic motivation on support for the territorial status quo and U.S. statehood—as well as rejection of national independence. Implications of these findings and the relevance of the overarching theoretical framework for the study of cultural and political psychology in other colonial and “post-colonial” contexts are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-106
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Social Issues
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • Puerto Rico
  • colonialism
  • coloniality
  • epistemic motivation
  • internalization of inferiority
  • national independence
  • outgroup favoritism
  • political ideology
  • statehood
  • system justification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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