Panglossian Ideology In The Service Of System Justification: How Complementary Stereotypes Help Us To Rationalize Inequality

Aaron C. Kay, John T. Jost, Anesu N. Mandisodza, Steven J. Sherman, John V. Petrocelli, Amy L. Johnson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


According to system justification theory, there is a general social psychological tendency to rationalize the status quo, that is, to see it as good, fair, legitimate, and desirable. This tendency is reminiscent of the dispositional outlook of Voltaire's famous character, Dr. Pangloss, who believed that he was "living in the best of all possible worlds." One of the means by which people idealize existing social arrangements is by relying on complementary (or compensatory) stereotypes, which ascribe compensating virtues to the disadvantaged and corresponding vices to the advantaged, thereby creating an "illusion of equality." In this chapter, we summarize a program of research demonstrating that (1) incidental exposure to complementary gender and status stereotypes leads people to show enhanced ideological support for the status quo and (2) when the legitimacy or stability of the system is threatened, people often respond by using complementary stereotypes to bolster the system. We also show that (noncomplementary) victim-blaming and (complementary) victim-enhancement represent alternate routes to system justification. In addition, we consider a number of situational and dispositional moderating variables that affect the use and effectiveness of complementary and noncomplementary representations, and we discuss the broader implications of stereotyping and other forms of rationalization that are adopted in the service of system justification. From time to time, Pangloss would say to Candide:There is a chain of events in this best of all possible worlds; for if you had not been turned out of a beautiful mansion at the point of a jackboot for love of Lady Cunégonde, if you had not been clamped into the Inquisition, if you had not wandered about America on foot, and had not struck the Baron with your sword, and lost all those sheep you brought from Eldorado, you would not be here eating candied fruit and pistachio nuts. "That's true enough," said Candide; "but we must go and work in the garden."-Voltaire, 1758/1947, Candide or Optimism, p. 144.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAdvances in Experimental Social Psychology
EditorsMark Zanna
Number of pages54
StatePublished - 2007

Publication series

NameAdvances in Experimental Social Psychology
ISSN (Print)0065-2601

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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