Dr. Derek Brown | Columbia Business School
A Group Status Account of the Misperception that Equality Harms Advantaged Groups
Inequality persists even though it restrains the prosperity of disadvantaged and advantaged groups alike. Integrating research from social identity theory, social comparison theory, and zero-sum thinking, we theorize that group status motivates, at times, flawed perceptions of non-zero-sum equality-enhancing policies. Across 4 studies, we find that advantaged group members misperceive equality policies as harmful to their group even when policies do not harm their groups’ access to resources. Disadvantaged group members, however, accurately perceived such policies as innocuous to advantaged groups’ resource access. Further, we experimentally manipulate participants’ motivation to enhance equality or preserve inequality and find that the misperception that equality inherently harms advantaged groups is mitigated when advantaged groups are motivated to promote equality. Across studies, we assess whether the predicted effects persist even when controlling for ideological beliefs around hierarchy, prejudice, and political conservatism. We discuss how the misperception that equality is a zero-sum game can explain why inequality prevails even as it exacts a toll on everyone.