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Ideology selectively shapes attention to inequality, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences


Contemporary debates about addressing inequality require a common, accurate understanding of the scope of the issue at hand. Yet little is known about who notices inequality in the world around them, and when. Across five studies (N=8,779) employing various paradigms, we consider the role of ideological beliefs about the desirability of social equality in shaping individuals’ attention to—and accuracy in detecting—inequality across the class, gender, and racial domains. In Study 1, individuals higher (vs. lower) on social egalitarianism were more likely to naturalistically remark on inequality when shown photographs of urban scenes. In Study 2, social egalitarians were more accurate at differentiating between equal versus unequal distributions of resources between men and women on a basic cognitive task. In Study 3, social egalitarians were faster to notice inequality-relevant changes in images in a change-detection paradigm indexing basic attentional processes. In Studies 4 and 5, we varied whether unequal treatment adversely affected groups at the top or bottom of society. In Study 4, social egalitarians were, on an incentivized task, more accurate at detecting inequality in speaking time in a panel discussion that disadvantaged women, but not when inequality disadvantaged men. In Study 5, social egalitarians were more likely to naturalistically point out bias in a pattern-detection hiring task when the employer was biased against minorities, but not when majority group members faced equivalent bias. Our results reveal the nuances in how our ideological beliefs shape whether we accurately notice inequality, with implications for prospects for addressing it.




Hannah Waldfogel, Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington, Oliver Hauser, Arnold Ho, Nour Kteily

Date Published



Waldfogel, Hannah, Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington, Oliver Hauser, Arnold Ho, and Nour Kteily. 2021. Ideology selectively shapes attention to inequality. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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