Portrait of Dr Nikhil Sengupta

Dr Nikhil Sengupta

Lecturer in Social and Organisational Psychology
TEF Coordinator


Dr Nikhil Sengupta is a Lecturer in Social and Organisational Psychology in the School of Psychology.

Research interests

Nikhil studies how inequality is produced, maintained and challenged, with a strong focus on the psychology of the victims of inequality (eg members of disadvantaged social groups). In one line of work, he has examined the consequences of inequality for people’s wellbeing and the types of socio-political ideologies people use to make sense of inequality. 

In another line of work, Nikhil has investigated how contact between and within social groups affect political attitudes relevant to inequality. He approaches these topics primarily by using advanced statistical techniques to analyse data from nationally representative longitudinal surveys in several countries, including New Zealand, India, the UK and the USA.

For more information on the longitudinal survey in New Zealand with which he works, please visit: http://nzavs.auckland.ac.nz

For more information on the longitudinal survey in India with which he works, please visit: https://www.lok-foundation.org/lok-survey-project/


Grants and awards

2016European Research Council.
Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship
EUR 183,455
2014Society for Australasian Social Psychology
Margaret Foddy Travel Award
AUD 500
2010University of Auckland
Faculty of Science Masters Scholarship
NZD 18,000
2009University of Auckland
School of Psychology Summer Studentship
NZD 5,000



  • Osborne, D., Sengupta, N., & Sibley, C. (2018). System justification theory at 25: Evaluating a paradigm shift in psychology and looking towards the future. British Journal of Social Psychology, 58, 340-361. doi:10.1111/bjso.12302
    Since first being proposed 25 years ago, system justification theory has become a paradigm-shifting framework for understanding intergroup relations and political psychology. Based on the thesis that people are motivated to defend and bolster the societal status quo, system justification theory helps to explain varied phenomena, including resistance to change, outgroup favouritism, and other instances of false consciousness. This paper summarizes four tenets of the theory including the following: (1) antecedents to system justification, (2) palliative effects of system justification, (3) status-based asymmetries in conflict between justification motives, and (4) societal consequences of system justification. Throughout our review, we highlight how system justification theory helps to explain why disadvantaged groups might sometimes support the status quo, emphasizing research conducted outside the United States when possible. We conclude by calling on future research to (1) further utilize nationally representative and multi-level data, (2) investigate the relational motives behind system justification, (3) address social change from a system justification perspective, and (4) extend system justification theory’s focus beyond WEIRD societies.
  • Sengupta, N., Osborne, D., & Sibley, C. (2018). On the Psychological Function of Nationalistic “Whitelash”. Political Psychology, 40, 759-775. doi:10.1111/pops.12563
    A noticeable feature of the political discourse accompanying the rise of Nationalism in White-majority countries is that White people fare worse than other ethnic groups in their societies. However, it is unclear based on the extant literature why group-based relative deprivation (GRD) would correlate with majority-group Nationalism. Here, we propose that the psychological function of Nationalism for majority-group members lies in its ability to assuage the negative feelings arising from GRD. Accordingly, in a New Zealand national probability sample (N= 15,607), we found that GRD among Whites was negatively associated with wellbeing. However, we also found an opposing indirect association mediated by Nationalism. GRD was associated with higher Nationalism, which was in turn associated with higher wellbeing. These findings suggest that endorsing beliefs about national superiority is one way a nation’s dominant ethnic group can cope with the negative psychological consequences of perceiving that their group is deprived.
  • Sengupta, N., & Sibley, C. (2018). The Political Attitudes and Subjective Wellbeing of the One Percent. Journal of Happiness Studies, 20, 2125-2140. doi:10.1007/s10902-018-0038-4
    In capitalist societies, individuals who occupy the highest positions in the economic hierarchy feature prominently in the political discourse under the moniker of the One Percent. However, little is known about how the psychology of One Percent might differ from that of the average person. Using a large, nationally representative sample in New Zealand (N = 14,650), we aimed to fill this gap examining the political attitudes and subjective wellbeing of the top one percent of the income distribution. We found that, compared to general public, the One Percent more strongly legitimize the political and economic systems in society, and express lower support for redistributive taxation. They also report higher life satisfaction, self-esteem and belongingness compared to everyone else. Thus, the One Percent benefit not only economically and politically from the current system, but also psychologically. Moreover, their political beliefs serve to bolster the inequality from which they benefit.
  • Greaves, L., Sengupta, N., Townrow, C., Osborne, D., Houkamau, C., & Sibley, C. (2018). Māori, a politicized identity: Indigenous identity, voter turnout, protest, and political party support in Aotearoa New Zealand. International Perspectives in Psychology: Research, Practice, Consultation, 73, 155-173. doi:10.1037/ipp0000089
    Political struggles are important to the identities of many indigenous peoples. This article examines identity as a predictor of crucial political outcomes—voter turnout, support for protest, and political party support—for Māori, the indigenous peoples of Aotearoa (New Zealand). We analyzed data from a national probability sample of Māori (N = 663) that included a scale of subjective identification with various aspects of Māori identity: the Multidimensional Model of Māori Identity and Cultural Engagement. Use of the scale allowed us to examine the facets of ethnic identity that predict political mobilization for indigenous peoples. As expected, the identity domain relating to political struggle, Socio-Political Consciousness, was positively associated with support for left-wing parties and Māori rights protest but negatively associated with support for the right-wing party. However, Socio-Political Consciousness did not relate to voter turnout. These results demonstrate the importance of ethnic identity as a key predictor of political behaviors for indigenous peoples.
  • Sengupta, N., Greaves, L., Osborne, D., & Sibley, C. (2017). The sigh of the oppressed: The palliative effects of ideology are stronger for people living in highly unequal neighbourhoods. British Journal of Social Psychology, 56, 437-454. doi:10.1111/bjso.12192
    Ideologies that legitimise status hierarchies are associated with increased wellbeing. However, which ideologies have ‘palliative effects’, why they have these effects, and whether these effects extend to low-status groups remain unresolved issues. The present study aimed to address these issues by testing the effects of the ideology of Symbolic Prejudice on wellbeing among low- and high-status ethnic groups (4,519 Europeans and 1,091 Māori) nested within 1,437 regions in New Zealand. Results showed that Symbolic Prejudice predicted increased wellbeing for both groups, but that this relationship was stronger for those living in highly unequal neighbourhoods. This suggests that it is precisely those who have the strongest need to justify inequality that accrue the most psychological benefit from subscribing to legitimising ideologies.
  • Greaves, L., Barlow, F., Lee, C., Matika, C., Wamg, W., Lindsay, C., Case, C., Sengupta, N., Huang, Y., Cowie, L., Stonge, S., Storey, M., De Souza, L., Manuela, S., Hammond, M., Milojev, P., Townrow, C., Muriwai, E., Satherley, N., Fraser, G., West-Newman, T., Houkamau, C., Bulbulia, J., Osborne, D., Wilson, M., & Sibley, C. (2017). The Diversity and Prevalence of Sexual Orientation Self-Labels in a New Zealand National Sample. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46, 1325-1336. doi:10.1007/s10508-016-0857-5
    In this study, we asked participants to “describe their sexual orientation” in an open-ended measure of self-generated sexual orientation. The question was included as part of the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (N = 18,261) 2013/2014 wave, a national probability survey conducted shortly after the first legal same-sex marriages in New Zealand. We present a two-level classification scheme to address questions about the prevalence of, and demographic differences between, sexual orientations. At the most detailed level of the coding scheme, 49 unique categories were generated by participant responses. Of those who responded with the following, significantly more were women: bisexual (2.1 % of women, compared to 1.5 % of men), bicurious (0.7 % of women, 0.4 % of men), and asexual (0.4 % of women and less than 0.1 % of men). However, significantly fewer women than men reported being lesbian or gay (1.8 % of women, compared to 3.5 % of men). Those openly identifying as bicurious, bisexual, or lesbian/gay were significantly younger than those with a heterosexual orientation. This study shows diversity in the terms used in self-generated sexual orientations, and provides up-to-date gender, age, and prevalence estimates for the New Zealand population. Finally, results reveal that a substantial minority of participants may not have understood the question about sexual orientation.
  • Stronge, S., Sengupta, N., Barlow, F., Osborne, D., Houkamau, C., & Sibley, C. (2016). Perceived discrimination predicts increased support for political rights and life satisfaction mediated by ethnic identity: A longitudinal analysis. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 22, 359-368. doi:10.1037/cdp0000074
    Objectives: The aim of the current research is to test predictions derived from the rejection-identification model and research on collective action using cross-sectional (Study 1) and longitudinal (Study 2) methods. Specifically, an integration of these 2 literatures suggests that recognition of discrimination can have simultaneous positive relationships with well-being and engagement in collective action via the formation of a strong ingroup identity. Method: We test these predictions in 2 studies using data from a large national probability sample of Māori (the indigenous peoples of New Zealand), collected as part of the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (Ns for Study 1 and 2 were 1,981 and 1,373, respectively). Results: Consistent with the extant research, Study 1 showed that perceived discrimination was directly linked with decreased life satisfaction, but indirectly linked with increased life satisfaction through higher levels of ethnic identification. Perceived discrimination was also directly linked with increased support for Māori rights and indirectly linked with increased support for Māori rights through higher levels of ethnic identification. Study 2 replicated these findings using longitudinal data and identified multiple bidirectional paths between perceived discrimination, ethnic identity, well-being, and support for collective action. Conclusion: These findings replicate and extend the rejection-identification model in a novel cultural context by demonstrating via cross-sectional (Study 1) and longitudinal (Study 2) analyses that the recognition of discrimination can both motivate support for political rights and increase well-being by strengthening ingroup identity.
  • Sengupta, N., Osborne, D., & Sibley, C. (2015). The status-legitimacy hypothesis revisited: Ethnic-group differences in general and dimension-specific legitimacy. British Journal of Social Psychology, 54, 324-340. doi:10.1111/bjso.12080
    The status-legitimacy hypothesis, which predicts that low-status groups will legitimise inequality more than high-status groups, has received inconsistent empirical support. To resolve this inconsistency, we hypothesised that low-status groups would display enhanced legitimation only when evaluating the fairness of the specific hierarchy responsible for their disadvantage. In a New Zealand-based probability sample (N = 6162), we found that low-status ethnic groups (Asians and Pacific Islanders) perceived ethnic-group relations to be fairer than the high-status group (Europeans). However, these groups did not justify the overall political system more than the high-status group. In fact, Māori showed the least support for the political system. These findings clarify when the controversial status-legitimacy effects predicted by System Justification Theory will—and will not—emerge.
  • Sengupta, N., Milojev, P., Barlow, F., & Sibley, C. (2015). Ingroup friendship and political mobilization among the disadvantaged. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 21, 358-368. doi:10.1037/a0038007
    This study investigated the effects of ingroup contact in a large, national sample of Māori (a disadvantaged ethnic group; N = 940) on political attitudes relevant to decreasing ethnic inequality in New Zealand. We tested the role of two mediating mechanisms – ethnic identification and system justification – in explaining the effects of ingroup contact on the dependent variables. Time spent with ingroup friends predicted increased support for the Māori Party and support for symbolic and resource-specific reparative policies benefiting Māori. These effects were partially mediated by increased ethnic identification. Although ingroup contact also reduced levels of system justification among Māori, its effects on policy attitudes and party preference were not mediated by system justification. This suggests that a key antecedent to system-challenging political attitudes is an increased sense of identification with a disadvantaged group arising, in part, from interactions with ingroup friends.
  • Osborne, D., Sibley, C., & Sengupta, N. (2015). Income and neighbourhood‐level inequality predict self‐esteem and ethnic identity centrality through individual‐ and group‐based relative deprivation: A multilevel path analysis. European Journal of Social Psychology, 45, 368-377. doi:10.1002/ejsp.2087
    Although income and inequality (objective measures of deprivation and the distribution of income within a defined area, respectively) predict people's self‐appraisals, the psychological mechanisms underlying these relationships are largely unknown. We address this oversight by predicting that feeling individually deprived (individual‐based relative deprivation [IRD])—a self‐focused appraisal—mediates the relationship between these two objective measures and self‐esteem. Conversely, believing that one's group is deprived (group‐based relative deprivation [GRD])—a group‐focused appraisal—mediates the relationship between these two objective measures and ethnic identity centrality. We examined these predictions in a national sample of New Zealand adults (N = 6349). As expected, income negatively correlated with IRD and GRD; in turn, IRD negatively correlated with self‐esteem, and GRD positively correlated with ethnic identity centrality. Moreover, after accounting for between‐level variability in income, neighbourhood‐level inequality had indirect effects on self‐esteem and ethnic identity centrality through IRD and GRD, respectively. Thus, income and inequality independently predicted self‐esteem and strength of ingroup identification through distinct mechanisms.
  • Milojev, P., Sengupta, N., & Sibley, C. (2014). Majority group opposition to minority political entitlements: The Social Dominance Paradox. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 39, 82-92. doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2013.10.001
    We propose and test the Social Dominance Paradox of majority opposition to minority political entitlement in a national sample of the European majority group in New Zealand (N = 4628). The paradox arises because for the majority ethnic group, Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) should simultaneously and differentially predict support for, and resistance to, minority political interests through opposing ideological mechanisms: Color-Blind Ideology (subjectively egalitarian ideology which functions to maintain inequality by de-emphasising group membership) and Ethnic System Justification (which recognises ethnicity and asserts that ethnic relations are fair). We argue that for the majority group, SDO should predict increased ethnic group salience, and should thus predict decreased Color-Blindness. However, SDO should also lead people to view existing hierarchical arrangements between ethnic groups as legitimate, leading to increased Ethnic System Justification. These dual ideologies should in turn both predict opposition to minority political entitlements. Predictions were supported, and occurred in addition to the strong direct effect of SDO on opposition to minority political entitlement. These findings provide an important, and theoretically predicted, paradox evident for those high in SDO; and emphasise the subtlety and explanatory power of Social Dominance Theory for understanding support for minority political entitlement.
Last updated