System justification, the denial of global warming, and the possibility of "system-sanctioned change"

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

448 Scopus citations


Despite extensive evidence of climate change and environmental destruction, polls continue to reveal widespread denial and resistance to helping the environment. It is posited here that these responses are linked to the motivational tendency to defend and justify the societal status quo in the face of the threat posed by environmental problems. The present research finds that system justification tendencies are associated with greater denial of environmental realities and less commitment to pro-environmental action. Moreover, the effects of political conservatism, national identification, and gender on denial of environmental problems are explained by variability in system justification tendencies. However, this research finds that it is possible to eliminate the negative effect of system justification on environmentalism by encouraging people to regard pro-environmental change as patriotic and consistent with protecting the status quo (i.e., as a case of "system-sanctioned change"). Theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)326-338
Number of pages13
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Conservation behavior
  • Denial
  • Environmental attitudes
  • Ideology
  • System justification


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