Aaron C. Kay's research while affiliated with Duke University and other places

Publications (134)

Article
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Compensatory control theory (CCT) provides a framework for understanding the mechanisms at play when one's personal control is challenged. The model suggests that believing the world is a structured and predictable place is fundamental, insofar as it provides the foundation upon which people can believe they are able to exert control over their env...
Article
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According to the theory of mutual constitution of culture and psyche, just as culture shapes people, individuals' psychological states can influence culture. We build on compensatory control theory, which suggests that low personal control can lead people to prefer societal systems that impose order, to examine the mutual constitution of personal c...
Article
Across eight studies, we investigated why so many people across different cultures and religious traditions ground morality and God, and why beliefs in God as a supreme moral authority increase in response to perceived injustices in the world. We found consistent correlational evidence that the dispositional need for structure in everyday life is p...
Article
Western culture idealizes an autonomous self-a self that strives for independence and freedom from the influence and control of others. We explored how the value placed on autonomy in Western culture intersects with the normative trait expectations experienced by men and women. While trait expectations placed on men (i.e., to be confident and asser...
Article
Liberals and conservatives currently struggle to reach political agreement on policy proposals. While political polarization is closely associated with this phenomenon, the precise psychological mechanisms via which polarization works to affect political compromise remain to be fully explored. Across five studies (N = 1236; 2126 total individual ob...
Article
A growing number of businesses are focusing on diversity and inclusion efforts. Amidst this recent interest, scholars have sought to understand the ideologies that perpetuate inequality, concentrating primarily on the hierarchy-enhancing ideologies that antiegalitarians leverage to maintain inequality. However, we suggest that the hierarchy-enhanci...
Article
Despite the recent influx of studies suggesting the negative societal impact of inequality, many remain skeptical of these scientific findings. Across four studies, we explore how political affiliation and social dominance orientation (SDO) interactively shape attitudes toward the emerging science on the repercussions of social inequality. Acceptan...
Article
People strive to feel in control. As such, under control threat, people defensively endorse ideologies that help compensate for diminished control. Although scholarly work has tended to focus on conservatism as a compensatory control mechanism, recent research suggests that conservatism is not always the most appealing means of restoring feelings o...
Article
The term fake news is increasingly used to discredit information from reputable news organizations. We tested the possibility that fake-news claims are appealing because they satisfy the need to see the world as structured. Believing that news organizations are involved in an orchestrated disinformation campaign implies a more orderly world than be...
Article
In the United States, both economic inequality and political conflict are on the rise. We investigated whether subjective socioeconomic status (SSS) may help explain why these dual patterns emerge. We hypothesized that higher SSS may increase naïve realism—the belief that one perceives the world as it is, rather than as interpreted through one’s ow...
Article
People differ in their beliefs about the objectivity of moral claims. We investigated a possible psychological antecedent that might be associated with people's beliefs about the objectivity of moral claims. More specifically, we examined the relationship between the endorsement of moral objectivism and one's need to see the world as structured, or...
Chapter
In this chapter, we outline a program of research that has sought to understand how sociopolitical and religious systems overlap in their satiation of psychological needs and suggest that this overlap helps one explain a range of sociocultural phenomenon regarding the complex relationship between these systems. Compensatory control theory (CCT) pos...
Article
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Compensatory Control Theory (CCT) suggests that religious belief systems provide an external source of control that can substitute a perceived lack of personal control. In a seminal paper, it was experimentally demonstrated that a threat to personal control increases endorsement of the existence of a controlling God. In the current registered repor...
Preprint
Compensatory Control Theory (CCT) suggests that religious belief systems provide an external source of control that can substitute a perceived lack of personal control. In a seminal paper, Kay et al. (2008) experimentally demonstrated that a threat to personal control increases endorsement of the existence of a controlling God. In the current regis...
Article
Drawing from compensatory control theory, we propose that because stereotypes provide psychological assurance that the world is orderly and predictable, stereotyping should increase among those lacking control. Four studies support this control-based account of stereotyping: lower personal control, both measured (Studies 1 and 3) and manipulated (S...
Article
How can people persuade and influence others? One option is to directly target others' behavior through rules and incentives. Another increasingly popular option, however, is to focus on modifying what others think rather than how they behave, and hoping behaviors will then change as a result. The assumption underlying this latter approach is that...
Article
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The pursuit of passion in one's work is touted in contemporary discourse. Although passion may indeed be beneficial in many ways, we suggest that the modern cultural emphasis may also serve to facilitate the legitimization of unfair and demeaning management practices-a phenomenon we term the legitimization of passion exploitation. Across 7 studies...
Article
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Why are consumers drawn to spiritual products? Leveraging theorising regarding the psychological need to perceive the world as orderly and non-random, we posit that products imbued with religious/spiritual significance help manage concerns about randomness and uncontrollability (e.g. when a product is unreliable or exposes the consumer to random un...
Article
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Although women's underrepresentation in senior-level positions in the workplace has multiple causes, women's self-improvement or "empowerment" at work has recently attracted cultural attention as a solution. For example, the bestselling book Lean In states that women can tackle gender inequality themselves by overcoming the "internal barriers" (e.g...
Article
We propose that people associate organizational hierarchy with corruption. Nine studies (N = 1896) provide triangulating evidence for this tendency and its underlying mechanism. We find that people expect more corruption to manifest among the employees of relatively more hierarchical organizations, and judge an organization with a history of corrup...
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We review conceptual and empirical contributions to system justification theory over the last fifteen years, emphasizing the importance of an experimental approach and consideration of context. First, we review the indirect evidence of the system justification motive via complimentary stereotyping. Second, we describe injunctification as direct evi...
Article
Building on contemporary perspectives regarding the role that group identification can play in sustaining control motives, we propose that being a member of a stable organization—one experienced as predictable and consistent rather than changing and in flux—can maintain individuals' sense of control. Four studies test this prediction. We observe th...
Article
The perception that God controls one's life can bolster motivation to pursue personal goals, but it can also have no impact and even squelch motivation. To better understand how religious beliefs impact self-regulation, the current research built on Compensatory Control Theory's claim that perceiving the environment as predictable (vs. unpredictabl...
Article
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Firearms are one the most contentious consumer products in the United States, with opinions on guns being strongly divided along liberal versus conservative lines. The current research leverages compensatory control theory (CCT; Kay et al. 2008) to show how the same underlying need to see the world as orderly and nonrandom can help explain both sid...
Article
The perception of whether one has personal control over a specific task or goal has been shown to be a crucial predictor of effort and persistence. Given this, one might expect people to perceive high personal control over tasks that are very important. However, drawing on emerging theories of motivated ideological belief, we suggest that, in some...
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Across four experiments, we explored how reminders of powerful external agents—interventionist Gods and reliable corporate institutions—influence people’s motivation in the realm of financial goals. We found evidence that when people receive specific financial advice, they feel demotivated by the overwhelming flow of concrete instructions for achie...
Article
We consider how the structure of groups seeking collective action on behalf of minorities impacts attitudes toward them. We predicted that hierarchical minority organizations are perceived as more effective social agents than non-hierarchical minority organizations and thus are particularly unlikely to be supported by those who prefer to maintain i...
Article
Struggling to control one’s mind can change how the world appears. In prior studies testing the compensatory control theory, reduced control over the external environment motivated the search for perceptual patterns and other forms of structured knowledge, even in remote domains. Going further, the current studies test whether difficulty controllin...
Article
When do people find ambiguity intolerable, and how might this manifest in the workplace where roles, guidelines and expectations can be made to be more or less ambiguous? Compensatory Control Theory (CCT; Kay, Gaucher, Napier, Callan, & Laurin, 2008) suggests a potential driver: perceived control. Recent CCT theory (Landau, Kay, & Whitson, 2015) ha...
Chapter
Beliefs in powerful Gods are prevalent across time and across societies. In this chapter, we explore the motivated underpinnings of this phenomenon. After describing two popular theories that help account for some of this prevalence—one focused on byproducts of normal human cognition and the other focused on the cultural benefit conferred by shared...
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Intrinsic rewards are typically thought to stem from an activity's inherent properties and not from separable rewards one receives from it. Yet, people may not consciously notice or remember all the subtle external rewards that correspond with an activity and may misattribute some directly to the activity itself. We propose that perceptions of intr...
Article
The authors propose that two guiding frameworks characterize psychological research on the relation between ideology and inequality. The first, called the product approach, focuses on ideologies directly concerned with intergroup relations, in which beliefs about inequality can be considered a direct product of the relevant belief system. These ide...
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Do references to God in political discourse increase confidence in the U.S. sociopolitical system? Using a system justification framework (Jost & Banaji, ), five studies provide evidence that, (1) increasingly governments symbolically associate the nation with God when public confidence in the social system may be threatened and (2) associating the...
Article
Life is filled with situations in which cognitive elaboration can powerfully sway outcomes, and yet our understanding of the contextual factors that impact elaboration are greatly limited to those entwined with the focal evaluation, judgment, or decision. In response, this research tests whether a more fundamental, incidental feature of the environ...
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We propose that the propensity to think creatively tends to be associated with independence and self-direction-qualities generally ascribed to men-so that men are often perceived to be more creative than women. In two experiments, we found that "outside the box" creativity is more strongly associated with stereotypically masculine characteristics (...
Article
While employees might be expected to be especially vigilant to problems within their organization during times of economic instability, we build on motivational perspectives put forth by System Justification Theory to propose the opposite effect, namely that economic instability enhances employees’ tendency to defensively ignore and diminish organi...
Article
Stereotypes and their associated category-based processes have traditionally been considered largely within the context of the negativity of their content and consequences, both among the general public and the scientific community. This review summarizes and integrates extant research on positive stereotypes, which are subjectively favorable belie...
Conference Paper
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Many brands sell their products with the promise that the consumer will experience happiness. Intuitively, appealing to people's desire to be happy should be universally well received. In two studies, we show that it is not necessarily the case by examining the moderating role of consumer religiosity. We further show that the moderating role of rel...
Article
People are motivated to perceive themselves as having control over their lives. Consequently, they respond to events and cognitions that reduce control with compensatory strategies for restoring perceived control to baseline levels. Prior theory and research have documented 3 such strategies: bolstering personal agency, affiliating with external sy...
Article
Giving employees the opportunity to voice their opinions about decisions affecting them has been lauded for its ability to facilitate desirable organizational outcomes. However, recent social cognitive theory suggests one potential undesirable consequence of voice— namely that being given voice may lead to an increased reliance on stereotypes when...
Article
In the current research, we propose that lay theories of creativity are gendered in nature and that the gendering of creativity contributes to gender inequality in the workplace. Specifically, we hypothesize that men are assumed to be more creative than women, and that this phenomenon can be explained by the tendency for creativity to be associated...
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Economic inequality in America is at historically high levels. Although most Americans indicate that they would prefer greater equality, redistributive policies aimed at reducing inequality are frequently unpopular. Traditional accounts posit that attitudes toward redistribution are driven by economic self-interest or ideological principles. From a...
Article
We propose that people may gain certain "offensive" and "defensive" advantages for their cherished belief systems (e.g., religious and political views) by including aspects of unfalsifiability in those belief systems, such that some aspects of the beliefs cannot be tested empirically and conclusively refuted. This may seem peculiar, irrational, or...
Article
There is often a curious distinction between what the scientific community and the general population believe to be true of dire scientific issues, and this skepticism tends to vary markedly across groups. For instance, in the case of climate change, Republicans (conservatives) are especially skeptical of the relevant science, particularly when the...
Article
How does economic instability impact employees’ perceptions of their own organizations? While employees might be expected to be especially vigilant to problems within their organization during times of economic instability, we build on perspectives put forth by System Justification Theory to propose the opposite effect, namely that economic instabi...
Article
The public’s attitudes toward new governmental laws and regulations are frequently at the forefront of public policy debates. Will the public react negatively to a newly implemented public safety regulation or embrace the change? Does the public’s initial favorability toward a proposed environmental policy indicate public opinion and compliance if...
Article
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Several prominent theories spanning clinical, social and developmental psychology suggest that people are motivated to see the world as a sensible orderly place. These theories presuppose that randomness is aversive because it is associated with unpredictability. If this is the case, thinking that the world is random should lead to increased anxiet...
Article
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Drawing on theorizing and research suggesting that people are motivated to view their world as an orderly and predictable place in which people get what they deserve, the authors proposed that (a) random and uncontrollable bad outcomes will lower self-esteem and (b) this, in turn, will lead to the adoption of self-defeating beliefs and behaviors. F...
Conference Paper
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As with all long-term goals, savings goals are subject to the goal gradient effect which suggests that the longer the delay is between the present and the time by which the goal needs to be accomplished, the less people are motivated to pursuit it. However, goal distance alone may not explain that negative correlation. We suggest that rather than d...
Article
As our global community increases in complexity, crises and disasters-such as global financial meltdowns and natural disasters-increasingly have the ability to impact millions of lives. Because of the scale and complexity of these issues, they are seemingly beyond comprehension and personal control. As such, people may rely on the government as a p...
Article
In an attempt to explain the stability of hierarchy, we focus on the perspective of the powerless and how a subjective sense of dependence leads them to imbue the system and its authorities with legitimacy. In Study 1, we found in a nationally representative sample of U.S. employees that financial dependence on one's job was positively associated w...
Article
Recognizing that there is a multiplicity of motives - and that the accessibility and strength of each one varies chronically and temporarily - is essential if motivational scientists are to achieve genuine theoretical and empirical integration. We agree that system justification is a case of nonconscious goal pursuit and discuss implications of the...
Article
In this chapter, we put forth the premise that people's motivated tendency to justify and defend their external systems has important, and largely unexplored, implications for the field of organizational behavior. Drawing on recent theoretical and empirical work emerging from System Justification Theory (Jost & Banaji, 1994), we propose that people...
Article
Hierarchies are a ubiquitous form of human social organization. We hypothesized that 1 reason for the prevalence of hierarchies is that they offer structure and therefore satisfy the core motivational needs for order and control relative to less structured forms of social organization. This hypothesis is rooted in compensatory control theory, which...
Article
We predicted that experiencing emotions that reflect uncertainty about the world (e.g., worry, surprise, fear, hope), compared to certain emotions (e.g., anger, happiness, disgust, contentment), would activate the need to imbue the world with order and structure across a wide range of compensatory measures. To test this hypothesis, three experiment...
Article
In March–April 2012, using 2 online videos, nonprofit organization Invisible Children initiated a “Stop Kony” campaign to turn Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony into an international enemy. Although the first video was the fastest viral video of all time, interest in the campaign eventually faded away. Might individual-level psychological processes help...
Article
While women now represent over half of the United States’ workforce, they are still underrepresented in top positions within organizations (Catalyst, 2013). While many social psychological mechanisms have been shown to lead to gender discrimination in the workplace, no empirical work to date has addressed whether the stereotype that women are more...
Article
Here we propose a dual process model to reconcile two contradictory predictions about how people respond to restrictive policies imposed upon them by organizations and systems within which they operate. When participants’ attention was not drawn to the restrictive nature of the policy, or when it was, but their cognitive resources were restricted,...
Article
A recurring observation of experimental psychologists is that people prefer, seek out, and even selectively "see" structure in their social and natural environments. Structure-seeking has been observed across a wide range of phenomena-from the detection of patterns in random arrays to affinities for order-providing political, religious, social, and...
Article
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world and a more punitive approach to criminal justice issues than comparable Western democracies. One potential explanation for this distinctiveness is that Americans, as individuals, are uniquely punitive toward criminals. The present study explores the possibility of cultural difference...
Article
This article outlines and reviews evidence for a model of compensatory control designed to account for the motivated belief in personal and external sources of control. In doing so, we attempt to shed light on the content and strength of ideologies, including extreme libertarian, nationalist, socialist, and religious fundamentalist ideologies. We s...
Article
We hypothesize that the system justification motive increases individuals' susceptibility to ideological priming effects. We tested this hypothesis in a sample of 308 participants in which system justification, accessibility of meritocratic or egalitarian ideology, and judgment of a meritocratic or equal funding system were manipulated. As predicte...
Article
System justification theory (SJT) posits that people are motivated to believe that the social system they live in is fair, desirable, and how it should be, especially in contexts that heighten the system justification motive. Past researchers have suggested that opposition to feminists may be motivated by the threat that feminism presents to the le...
Article
Modern society is rife with inequality. People's interpretations of these inequalities, however, vary considerably: Different people can interpret, for example, the existing gender gap in wages as being the result of systemic discrimination, or as being the fair and natural result of genuine differences between men and women. Here, we examine one f...
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The present research demonstrates that positive stereotypes – though often treated as harmless, flattering and innocuous – may represent an especially insidious means of promoting antiquated beliefs about social groups. Specifically, across four studies (and one replication), the authors demonstrate that exposure to positive stereotypes towards Afr...
Article
Experimental existential psychology (XXP) empirically investigates how people's motives for meaning and personal value influence their lives, and how symbolic self-awareness undergirds these motives and experienced threats to their fulfillment. The authors attempt to synthesize the insights that have already accumulated from XXP, and simultaneously...
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People need to understand why an instance of suffering occurred and what purpose it might have. One widespread account of suffering is a repressive suffering construal (RSC): interpreting suffering as occurring because people deviate from social norms and as having the purpose of reinforcing the social order. Based on the theorizing of Emile Durkhe...
Article
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The sanctioning of norm-transgressors is a necessary--though often costly--task for maintaining a well-functioning society. Prior to effective and reliable secular institutions for punishment, large-scale societies depended on individuals engaging in 'altruistic punishment'--bearing the costs of punishment individually, for the benefit of society....
Article
How do people respond to government policies and work environments that place restrictions on their personal freedoms? The psychological literature offers two contradictory answers to this question. Here, we attempt to resolve this apparent discrepancy. Specifically, we identify the absoluteness of a restriction as one factor that determines how pe...
Article
Reports an error in "On the perpetuation of ignorance: System dependence, system justification, and the motivated avoidance of sociopolitical information" by Steven Shepherd and Aaron C. Kay ( Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , Advanced Online Publication, Nov 7, 2011, np). Due to a production error, the article was published with the i...
Article
This chapter will discuss and provide evidence for the idea that the law's existence shapes social reality by implicitly fostering the sense that people are, and perhaps should be, competitive and untrustworthy. Drawing on research from social cognition and legal studies, it will argue that people tend to associate the law with self-interestedness...
Article
More than a decade of research from the perspective of system-justification theory (Jost & Banaji, 1994) has demonstrated that people engage in motivated psychological processes that bolster and support the status quo. We propose that this motive is highly contextual: People do not justify their social systems at all times but are more likely to do...
Article
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How do people cope when they feel uninformed or unable to understand important social issues, such as the environment, energy concerns, or the economy? Do they seek out information, or do they simply ignore the threatening issue at hand? One would intuitively expect that a lack of knowledge would motivate an increased, unbiased search for informati...
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Despite the cultural ubiquity of ideas and images related to God, relatively little is known about the effects of exposure to God representations on behavior. Specific depictions of God differ across religions, but common to most is that God is (a) an omnipotent, controlling force and (b) an omniscient, all-knowing being. Given these 2 characterist...
Article
Research inspired by the compensatory control model (CCM) shows that people compensate for personal control threats by bolstering aspects of the cultural worldview that afford external control. According to the CCM these effects stem from the motivation to maintain perceived order, but it is alternatively possible that they represent indirect effor...
Article
Culture affects the extent to which people focus on other people or on the situation in drawing inferences. Building on recent research showing that perceptions of others and situations can mediate prime-to-behavior effects, we tested whether culture would modify both the mechanism and the outcome of primed constructs on behavior. Easterners and We...
Article
Endorsing complementary stereotypes about others (i.e., stereotypes consisting of a balance of positive and negative characteristics) can function to satisfy the need to perceive one's social system as fair and balanced. To what extent might this also apply to self-perception, or self-stereotyping? The present research aimed to investigate the link...
Article
Consumers are often strongly motivated to view themselves as part of a legitimate and fair external system. Our research focuses on how individuals adopt distinct ways of defending their system when it is threatened and, in particular, how this is revealed in their consumption choices. We find that although individuals differ in how confident they...
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A consequential ideology in Western society is the uncontested belief that a committed relationship is the most important adult relationship and that almost all people want to marry or seriously couple (DePaulo & Morris, 2005). In the present article, we investigated the extent to which the system justification motive may contribute to the adoption...
Article
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Social dominance theory (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999) contends that institutional-level mechanisms exist that reinforce and perpetuate existing group-based inequalities, but very few such mechanisms have been empirically demonstrated. We propose that gendered wording (i.e., masculine- and feminine-themed words, such as those associated with gender ster...
Article
Three studies demonstrate how individual differences in confidence in the sociopolitical system interact with threats that engage the system justification motive to produce system defense. Following threat, participants low, but not high, in system confidence increasingly defended the system, by rejecting system change (Study 1) and preferring dome...