System Justification and the Disruption of Environmental Goal-Setting: A Self-Regulatory Perspective

Irina Feygina, Rachel E. Goldsmith, John T. Jost

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Global warming and environmental destruction pose formidable social dilemmas. Although the contribution of each person to the problem through consumption, utilization, and waste is nearly invisible, the cumulative impact for the well-being of societies and individuals within those societies is potentially devastating. We propose that an important psychological factor contributing to the environmental commons dilemma is the motivation to justify and rationalize the status quo and the extant socioeconomic system. Rather than acknowledging and confronting environmental problems, we propose that people may engage in denial of environmental realities as a means of satisfying short-term needs associated with system justification. Denial, in turn, contributes to a failure to set proenvironmental goals and the tendency to perpetuate environmentally harmful behaviors that are detrimental in the long term. Four studies provided support for these predictions. People who exhibit chronically stronger (vs. weaker) tendencies to justify the system reported greater denial of environmental problems, less favorable attitudes toward the environment, and failure to set useful, ambitious goals or to engage in behaviors that would prevent further environmental deterioration. Differences in system justification tendencies helped to explain commonly observed differences in environmental attitudes and behaviors among liberals and conservatives, women and men, and those with more-compared to less-years of education. In addition, our experimental evidence suggested that engaging in denial of environmental realities serves a system-justifying function by re-establishing a view of the system as legitimate and just, but it interferes with setting goals to help the environment. Implications of a selfregulatory perspective on environmental attitudes and potential contributions of a social psychological analysis of commons dilemmas are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSelf Control in Society, Mind, and Brain
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199776894
ISBN (Print)9780195391381
StatePublished - May 1 2010


  • Commons dilemmas
  • Environmental attitudes and behaviors
  • Global warming
  • Goal setting
  • Intention formation
  • Self-regulation
  • System justification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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