More than fair: Outcome dependence, system justification, and the perceived legitimacy of authority figures

Jojanneke van der Toorn, Tom R. Tyler, John T. Jost

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Legitimacy is a source of power for authorities because it promotes voluntary deference on the part of followers. From a system justification perspective, there is also reason to believe that power is a source of perceived legitimacy. We report five studies demonstrating that in addition to procedural fairness and outcome favorability, outcome dependence is an independent contributor to perceived legitimacy. In two cross-sectional field studies and one panel study, we hypothesized and found that dependence on an authority figure is positively associated with appraisals of legitimacy, measured in terms of trust and confidence in, empowerment of, and deference to authority. These effects were demonstrated in educational, political, and legal settings. Two additional experiments provided direct causal evidence for the hypothesized effect on both perceived legitimacy and voluntary deference (i.e., acquiescence to additional requests). We also found that participants assigned to a high (vs. low) dependence condition judged their outcomes to be more favorable, despite the fact that the outcomes were identical in the two conditions; this effect was mediated by perceived legitimacy. Taken as a whole, these findings suggest that perceived legitimacy is enhanced not only when authorities exercise fair procedures and deliver favorable outcomes, but also when subordinates are dependent on them. Implications for society and the study of legitimacy and social power are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-138
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011


  • Legitimacy
  • Outcome dependence
  • Power
  • Procedural fairness
  • System justification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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