Date of Award


Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Shannon K. McCoy

Second Committee Member

Scott Eidelman

Third Committee Member

Shawn Ell


While scholars disagree whether membership in a low status group necessarily means wellbeing will suffer, system-justifying ideologies like meritocracy are agreed to have an important influence over this relationship. Recent research has shown that endorsement of meritocracy can protect low status individuals from negative wellbeing after exposure to inequality. This study sought to understand why low status targets are not always emotionally impacted by evidence of inequality. McCoy, Major, and Cosley (in preparation) revealed that one way endorsing meritocracy exerts its influence is by increasing perceptions of personal control and reducing perceptions of threat, thereby protecting overall wellbeing. The present work investigated an alternative way meritocracy may aid the low status in protecting their wellbeing in the face of group inequalities. Based on research showing how low status targets who endorse meritocracy also self stereotype more when faced with group inequalities (McCoy & Major, 2007), the present study hypothesized that the presence of inequality focuses low status targets on the stereotypical responsibilities of their group. This focus on group responsibilities related to stereotypes makes potential discrepancies concerning whether the group is living up to those responsibilities salient. For those who endorse meritocracy it was predicted that when faced with inequalities that are not directly attributable to discrimination (inconclusive condition) potential group discrepancies will be smaller than when the inequality is unequivocally attributable to discrimination (clear condition). The decreased perceived discrepancies are expected to protect the wellbeing of the low status. Female participants were exposed to one of two articles describing gender inequalities between men and women. After reading about the inequalities, participants described and rated the responsibilities of their group and then filled out a series of questionnaires assessing mood, self-esteem, and attributions to the article. Group discrepancy scores were calculated using the self-ratings participants generated regarding the perceived responsibilities of their group. As predicted, exposure to inconclusive inequality led participants to report smaller group discrepancies the more they endorsed meritocracy. Also as predicted, exposure to clear discrimination led participants to report greater group discrepancies the more they endorsed a meritocracy. Participants also exhibited a positive relationship between meritocracy and wellbeing after reading about inconclusive inequality. However, meritocracy was also positively related to wellbeing for those who read about clear discrimination against their group. While this effect was not predicted nor supported by previous research (Major et al., 2007), the present analysis attempted to shed light by examining the stereotypical content of words participants generated for the discrepancy questionnaire, group identification, and perceived experience with personal and group forms of discrimination. Ultimately, the present study found partial support for the hypotheses and has important implications for future research. The role of group discrepancies in producing this unexpected finding is discussed.