Placating the powerless: Effects of legitimate and illegitimate explanation on affect, memory, and stereotyping

Elizabeth L. Haines, John T. Jost

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In an experimental study involving power differences between groups, the effects of legitimate and illegitimate explanations for power were investigated on measures of affect, stereotyping, and memory. We found that powerless groups reported more positive affect (relative to negative affect) when explanations were provided for their powerlessness, whether these explanations were classified a priori as either legitimate or illegitimate. Members of powerless groups also attributed greater intelligence and responsibility to the outgroup when it was in a position of high power rather than equal power, and these effects on stereotyping were enhanced when explanations for the power differences were provided. Finally, research participants tended to misremember the reasons given for the power differences as more legitimate than they actually were. These results support a system justification theory of intergroup behavior (Jost and Banaji [1994] Br. J. Soc. Psychol. 33:1-27) in that people seem to imbue placebic explanations with legitimacy, use stereotypes to rationalize power differences, and exhibit biases in memory such that the status quo is increasingly legitimized over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-236
Number of pages18
JournalSocial Justice Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2000


  • Explanation
  • Intergroup relations
  • Legitimacy
  • Power
  • System justification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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