Social Indicators Research

, Volume 113, Issue 1, pp 401–418 | Cite as

The Palliative Function of System Justification: Concurrent Benefits Versus Longer-Term Costs to Wellbeing

  • Jessica F. Harding
  • Chris G. SibleyEmail author


We examined the extent to which system justification buffered the negative effect of retrospective experiences of active harm from general sources in society on life satisfaction during the same assessment period, and prospectively 1 year later. Results from a nationally representative sample indicated that the retrospective assessment of active harm and quality of life were uncorrelated for people who endorsed system justifying ideology (N = 6,518). Study 2 replicated the concurrent buffering effect of system justification on subjective wellbeing and demonstrated that the effect reversed over time. For people high in system justification beliefs, societal-level harm prospectively predicted lower life satisfaction 1 year later (N = 136 undergraduates). Perceiving the system as fair and legitimate in the face of harm from others in society has opposing short and longer-term effects on wellbeing. We argue that these opposing effects occur because although system justification trumps experiences of harm and buffers life satisfaction in the short-term; the resulting experience-belief conflict engenders a state of ideological dissonance that predicts negative psychological outcomes down the track.


System justification Subjective wellbeing Life satisfaction Active harm 



Collection of the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study 2009 (NZAVS-09) data analyzed in this paper was funded by University of Auckland FRDF (#3624435/9853) and ECREA (#3626075) grants awarded to Chris Sibley.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.New York UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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