ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2017, Vol. 49 ›› Issue (7): 980-994.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2017.00980

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 When do procedural justice and outcome justice interact to influence legitimacy of authorities? The moderating effect of social class

 YANG Linchuan1,2; MA Hongyu1; JIANG Hai1,3; LIANG Juan1; QI Ling1   

  1. (1 Key Laboratory of Adolescent Cyberpsychology and Behavior (CCNU), Ministry of Education and School of Psychology, Central China Normal University, Wuhan 430079, China) (2 Research Institute of Higher Education, China Three Gorges university, Yichang 443002, China) (3 Party School of CPC Wuhan Committee, Wuhan 430079, China)
  • Received:2015-08-21 Published:2017-07-25 Online:2017-05-26
  • Contact: MA Hongyu, E-mail: E-mail: E-mail:
  • Supported by:

Abstract:  Much of recent attention has been directed toward legitimacy as an important source of power for authorities in societies. Studies of the origins of perceived legitimacy have focused on the influence and interactive effects of procedural and distributive justice. However, in many studies, the two-way interaction between outcome and procedure justice was found to be statistically non-significant. According to the Construal-Level Theory, the elevated ranks and resources of upper-class individuals would increase their perceived psychological distance from others, and this distance would lead to more abstract information processing. Thus, we suspected that upper-class individuals would value procedural justice information above perceive legitimacy, whereas lower-class individuals would give greater importance to issues of distributive justice. In this study, three experiments were conducted to examine this hypothesis. Two hundred and sixty undergraduate students participated in Experiment 1, and 241 adults participated in Experiment 2. Both Experiment 1 and Experiment 2 used a 3×2×2 between-subjects design in a controlled laboratory setting. Firstly, the subjects took part in a manipulation of their relative social class. Then, the procedural justice was manipulated by a voice/ no-voice procedure. Additionally, the distributive justice was controlled through the distribution of lotteries. After the treatments, perceived legitimacy of authorities was measured. The three-way interaction between outcome, procedure, and social class was statistically significant, F (2, 248) = 3.12, p < 0.05, and ηp2 = 0.03. Three hundred and seventy undergraduate students participated in Experiment 3. They were assigned to upper/lower-class groups based on their family occupations and subjective SES. Then, they experienced the procedural and distributive justice in 6 different scenarios before their perceived legitimacy of the authority was measured. The three-way interaction between outcome, procedure, and social class was significant, F (2, 358) = 8.40, p < 0.05, and ηp2 = 0.05. The results of three experiments indicated that: (1) participants in a fair-outcome treatment condition perceived higher legitimacy than those who were in unfair outcome conditions. (2) lower-class participants assigned to a fair-outcome condition perceived authorities to be more legitimate than their counterparts in unfair outcome conditions in both voice and no-voice procedure condition. (3) lower-class participants perceived lower legitimacy when they assigned to voice (vs. no-voice) procedure condition in both fair and unfair outcome that the partner received a worse reward conditions. (4) upper-class participants who were in fair outcome condition perceived authorities to be more legitimate relative to their counterparts in other unfair outcome conditions in voice procedure condition. (5) upper-class participants in the voice procedure condition perceived the authorities to be more legitimate than their counterparts in no-voice procedure condition in the fair outcome setting. These results suggested that individuals’ social class influenced the interactive effects of procedural and distributive justice on perceived legitimacy. In particular, it was found that procedural justice exerted ironic influences on perceived legitimacy of lower-class individuals. Moreover, the study tried to demonstrate that social class would modulate the relationship of social justice and perceived legitimacy in the social domain. These findings were informative to the development of administrative strategies that would influence people from different social classes.

Key words:  legitimacy, social class, distributive justice, procedural justice, Construal-Level Theory

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