Portrait of Professor Robbie Sutton

Professor Robbie Sutton

Professor of Social Psychology
Deputy Head of School
Undergraduate Outreach Team
Postgraduate Progression Monitoring Lead


Robbie is a Professor of Social Psychology, Director of Graduate Studies (Research), a member of the Undergraduate Outreach Team and Postgraduate Progression Monitoring Lead in the School of Psychology.

Research interests

Robbie is interested in the social psychology of justice and (in)equality, including:

  • Just-world beliefs
    These refer to the extent to which people believe they, and others, receive the treatment and life outcomes they deserve.  These are related to psychological health, functioning, and a raft of social attitudes (for more information, see Hafer & Sutton, 2014; Sutton & Douglas, 2005; Sutton & Winnard, 2007; Sutton et al., 2008; Wu et al., 2013 in the publication list).  
  • Conspiracy beliefs
    Robbie collaborates with Professor Karen Douglas on conspiracy belief (see Douglas & Sutton, 2008, 2011, Sutton & Douglas, 2014.  Their work examines the psychological mechanisms that cause people to entertain such beliefs. 
  • Immanent justice reasoning
    Robbie collaborates with Mitch Callan (University of Essex) on why people tend to perceive that a person's misfortune must be attributable to some prior misdeed of theirs, even when the two cannot be related (Callan et al., 2010, 2013, 2014).
  • Gender, sexism and inequality
    Robbie has studied several aspects of gender inequality, including gendered fear of crime (Sutton & Farrall, 2005, 2008; Sutton, Robinson & Farrall, 2011), sexist intrusions on the autonomy of women during pregnancy (Murphy et al., 2011; Sutton, Douglas, & McClellan, 2011), and gender inequality in educational attainment (Hartley & Sutton, 2013).  

He is interested in social communicative approaches to these and other questions, such as intergroup relations (e.g., Douglas & Sutton, 2003, 2010; Sutton, Elder & Douglas, 2006). A related interest is in environmental psychology.  

Key publications

  • Hopkins-Doyle, A., Sutton, R. M., Douglas, K. M., & Calogero, R. M. (in press). Flattering to deceive: Why people misunderstand Benevolent Sexism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. doi:10.1037/pspa0000135
  • Rutjens, B., Heine, S., Sutton, R. M., & van Harreveld, F. (2018). Attitudes towards science. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology57, 125-165. doi:10.1016/bs.aesp.2017.08.001
  • Cichocka, A. K., Górska, P., Jost, J., Sutton, R. M., & Bilewicz, M. (2018). What inverted U can do for your country: A curvilinear relationship between confidence in the social system and political engagement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology115(5), 883-902. doi:10.1037%2Fpspp0000168
  • Dawtry, R., Sutton, R. M., & Sibley, C. (2015). Why wealthier people think people are wealthier, and why it matters: From social sampling to redistributive attitudes. Psychological Science26(9), 1389-1400. doi:10.1177/0956797615586560
  • Callan, M. J., Sutton, R. M Harvey, A., & Dawtry, R. (2014). Immanent justice reasoning: Theory, research, and current directions. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology49, 105-161.


Current research students

Past research students

  • Dr Rael Dawtry: Income inequality through a psychological lens
  • Dr Amy Murphy: Sexist ideology, health beliefs and paternalism towards pregnant women
  • Dr Katherine Wilson: The anticipated fruits of victory: Why groups make absolute sacrifices for relative gains
  • Dr Tadios Chisango: Understanding 'infrahumanisation' of the outgroup in terms of the linguistic Intergroup Bias.
  • Dr Jennifer Cole: From speech acts to dispositions: How impressions of persons are shaped by their descriptions of others. (Graduated 2007)
  • Dr Bonny Hartley: Will boys become boys? Stereotype threat and boys' academic underachievement. (Graduated 2013)
  • Dr Amy-Jo Lynch: Fear of crime, gender, and social control: Experimental tests of radical feminist notions. (Graduated 2013)


Other academic activities

  • Fellow, Society of Experimental Social Psychology
  • Fellow, Association for Psychological Science
  • Associate Editor, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 2016-2018
  • Editorial Board Member, British Journal of Social PsychologyEuropean Journal of Social PsychologyJournal of Language and Social Psychology, 2009
  • Workshop tutor, European Association of Social Psychology Summer School, Lisbon, 2014 (http://sseasp2014.iscte-iul.pt/)
  • External examiner of MSc programmes at the University of Exeter (2011-2014), Lancaster (2015-2018), BSc and MSci programmes at the University of Birmingham (2012-2016), BSc programmes at Keele University (2016-2019)
  • PhD examiner at Utrecht, Lancaster, LSE, Australian National University, the University of Queensland, ULB Brussels, University of Queensland, Birmingham, ISCTE (Lisbon), Lahore, and Granada
  • Conference organiser and host, 14th Biennial Conference of the International Society for Justice Research, Canterbury, July 2016
  • Member of ESRC Peer Review panel since 2011

Conference organisation

  • The Kent Workshop on Linguistic Bias

Grants and funding

Mar 2018R. Sutton, Z. Bergstrom, K.Dhont and K.Douglas 
Leverhulme Trust 
"Moral memory bias about the sentience of animals"
May 2016K.Douglas, R.Sutton, A. Cichocka et al. 
"The psychology of conspiracy theories."
2014R. Sutton and K. Douglas
Centre for Defence Enterprise
"Multiple social identities"
Nov 2011-presentMiguel Moya et al. (Granada) (Co-investigator)
"Sexist ideology and power inequality in the development and maintenance of sexual harassment"
Research Council, Spanish Government
Nov 2011-Oct 2013R. Sutton and K. Douglas
Kent County Council 
"Coastal communities 2150: Barriers to engagement study"
Jan 2010-April 2012R. Sutton and T. Gannon
Changing behaviour programmes – psychological perspective
(Draw-down consultancy) 
Aug 2009-April 2013I. Correia, H. Alves and R. Sutton
"How life treats me depends on who I am: Social identity as threat and buffer to the belief in a just world"
Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), Portugal


Showing 50 of 84 total publications in the Kent Academic Repository. View all publications.


  • Sutton, R., & Douglas, K. (2020). Conspiracy theories and the conspiracy mindset: Implications for political ideology. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 34, 118-122. doi:10.1016/j.cobeha.2020.02.015
    We consider the significance of belief in conspiracy theories for political ideologies. Although there is no marked ideological asymmetry in conspiracy belief, research indicates that conspiracy theories may play a powerful role in ideological processes. In particular, they are associated with ideological extremism, distrust of rival ideological camps, populist distrust of mainstream politics, and ideological grievances. The “conspiracy mindset” characterizes the ideological significance of conspiracy belief, and is associated with measuring conspiracy belief by means of abstract propositions associated with aversion and distrust of powerful groups. We suggest that this approach does not pay sufficient attention to the nonrational character of specific conspiracy beliefs and thus runs the risk of mischaracterizing them, and mischaracterizing their ideological implications.
  • Sainz, M., Martínez, R., Sutton, R., Rodríguez-Bailón, R., & Moya, M. (2019). Less Human, More to Blame: Animalizing Poor People Increases Blame and Decreases Support for Wealth Redistribution. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. doi:10.1177/1368430219841135
    Increasing economic inequality adversely affects groups with low socioeconomic status (low-SES). However, many people are opposed to wealth redistribution policies. In this context, we examined whether dehumanization of low-SES groups has a role in this opposition. In the first study (N = 303), opposition to wealth redistribution was related to denying human uniqueness (e.g., intelligence and rationality) and having negative attitudes toward low-SES groups, more than denying human nature (e.g., emotionality and capacity to suffer) to low-SES groups. Mediation analyses indicated that this effect occurred via blaming low-SES groups for their plight, after controlling for participants’ SES and negative attitudes towards low-SES groups. In the second study (N = 220), manipulating the human uniqueness of a fictitious low-SES group affected support for wealth redistribution measures through blame. These results indicate that animalizing low-SES groups reduces support for wealth redistribution via blaming low-SES groups for their situation.
  • Douglas, K., Uscinski, J., Sutton, R., Cichocka, A., Nefes, T., Ang, C., & Deravi, F. (2019). Understanding conspiracy theories. Advances in Political Psychology, 40, 3-35. doi:10.1111/pops.12568
    Scholarly efforts to understand conspiracy theories have grown significantly in recent years, and there is now a broad and interdisciplinary literature that we review in this article. We ask three specific questions. First, what are the factors that are associated with conspiracy theorizing? Our review of the literature shows that conspiracy beliefs result from a range of psychological, political and social factors. Next, how are conspiracy theories communicated? Here, we explain how conspiracy theories are shared among individuals and spread through traditional and social media platforms. Next, what are the risks and rewards associated with conspiracy theories? By focusing on politics and science, we argue that conspiracy theories do more harm than good. Finally, because this is a growing literature and many open questions remain, we conclude by suggesting several promising avenues for future research.
  • Alves, H., Pereira, C., Sutton, R., & Correia, I. (2019). The world may not be just but you’d better not say it: On the social value of expressing personal belief in a just world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 49, 270-285. doi:10.1002/ejsp.2535
    The expression of personal belief in a just world (PBJW) has been discussed as a criterion of excellence in social judgments. In four experimental studies we hypothesized and found that targets who express high versus low PBJW are judged as more: 1) deserving of success and 2) suited to socio?organizational expectations. The four studies show that suitability to socio?organizational expectations mediates the relation between PBJW expressed and success deservingness, even after controlling for judgments of likability, status, rationality, optimism and targets as victims. Studies 2 and 3 show this pattern occurs regardless of target performance appraisal. Study 4 indicates that expressing low PBJW decreases the social value of individuals, but expressing high PBJW does not increase it. We discuss the impact of PBJW expression on people's lives, namely on upper social mobility of members of low?status groups, and the influence of the negativity bias on judgments caused by PBJW expression.
  • Douglas, K., & Sutton, R. (2018). Why conspiracy theories matter: A social psychological analysis. European Review of Social Psychology, 29, 256-298. doi:10.1080/10463283.2018.1537428
    Although conspiracy theories have arguably always been an important feature of social life, they have only attracted the attention of social psychologists in recent years. The last decade, however, has seen an increase in social psychological research on this topic that has yielded many insights into the causes and consequences of conspiracy thinking. In this article, we draw on examples from our own programme of research to highlight how the methods and concepts of social psychology can be brought to bear on the study of conspiracy theories. Specifically, we highlight how basic social cognitive processes such as pattern perception, projection, and agency detection predict the extent to which people believe in conspiracy theories. We then highlight the role of motivations such as the need for uniqueness, and the motivation to justify the system, in predicting the extent to which people adopt conspiracy explanations. We next discuss how conspiracy theories have important consequences for social life, such as decreasing engagement with politics and influencing people’s health and environmental decisions. Finally, we reflect on some of the limitations of research in this domain and consider some important avenues for future research.
  • Hopkins-Doyle, A., Sutton, R., Douglas, K., & Calogero, R. (2018). Flattering to deceive: Why people misunderstand Benevolent Sexism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 116, 167-192. doi:10.1037/pspa0000135
    Perceptions of warmth play a central role in social cognition. Seven studies employ observational, correlational, and experimental methods to examine its role in concealing the functions of benevolent sexism. Together, Studies 1 (n = 297), 2 (n = 252) and 3 (n = 219) indicated that although women recall experiencing benevolent (vs. hostile) sexism more often, they protest it less often, because they see it as warm. In Studies 4 (n = 296) and 5 (n = 361), describing men as high in benevolent sexism caused them (via warmth) to be seen as lower in hostile sexism and more supportive of gender equality. In Study 6 (n = 283) these findings were replicated and extended, revealing misunderstanding of relationships between BS and a wide array of its correlates. In Study 7 (n = 211), men experimentally described as harboring warm (vs. cold) attitudes toward women were perceived as higher in benevolent sexism but lower in known correlates of benevolent sexism. These findings demonstrate that the warm affective tone of benevolent sexism, particularly when displayed by men, masks its ideological functions.
  • Petterson, A., & Sutton, R. (2018). Sexist Ideology and Endorsement of Men’s Control over Women’s Decisions in Reproductive Health. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 42, 235-247. doi:10.1177/0361684317744531
    Feminist scholars have argued that men’s control over women’s reproductive autonomy is a central feature of male dominance. Building on recent research that shows sexist ideology informs support for restricting women’s reproductive autonomy, we examined the relation of sexism and the belief that men should be able to restrict the behavior of women. Study 1 (N = 366 undergraduate psychology students in the United Kingdom) and Study 2 (N = 281 Amazon MTurk workers in the United States), showed that controlling for various demographics and ideological measures (e.g., right-wing authoritarianism, support for abortion rights), hostile sexism was related to support for men having the right to prevent their pregnant partner from having an abortion. Further, hostile sexism was also related to the endorsement of men’s right to withdraw financial support for the child if a woman chooses not to terminate her pregnancy. Hostile sexism was also uniquely related to support for men’s right to veto their female partner’s decisions during pregnancy and childbirth. The present studies show that hostile sexism is associated with perceptions that men have the right to constrain women’s reproductive choices. Our findings highlight the adverse pressures on women’s reproductive autonomy, including sexist ideology, and may suggest that practitioners should be mindful of this when assisting women in discussing reproductive questions. Further, by creating awareness about the different factors that shape the perception of men’s role in reproductive decisions, sexual health educators could potentially help affirm women’s autonomy in reproductive health.
  • van der Wal, R., Sutton, R., Lange, J., & Braga, J. (2018). Suspicious binds: Conspiracy thinking and tenuous perceptions of causal connections between co?occurring and spuriously correlated events. European Journal of Social Psychology. doi:10.1002/ejsp.2507
    Previous research indicates that conspiracy thinking is informed by the psychological imposition of order and meaning on the environment, including the perception of causal relations between random events. Four studies indicate that conspiracy belief is driven by readiness to draw implausible causal connections even when events are not random, but instead conform to an objective pattern. Study 1 (N = 195) showed that conspiracy belief was related to the causal interpretation of real?life, spurious correlations (e.g., between chocolate consumption and Nobel prizes). In Study 2 (N = 216), this effect held adjusting for correlates including magical and non?analytical thinking. Study 3 (N = 214) showed that preference for conspiracy explanations was associated with the perception that a focal event (e.g., the death of a journalist) was causally connected to similar, recent events. Study 4 (N = 211) showed that conspiracy explanations for human tragedies were favoured when they comprised part of a cluster of similar events (vs. occurring in isolation); crucially, they were independently increased by a manipulation of causal perception. We discuss the implications of these findings for previous, mixed findings in the literature and for the relation between conspiracy thinking and other cognitive processes.
  • Jolley, D., Douglas, K., & Sutton, R. (2018). Blaming a few bad apples to save a threatened barrel: The system-justifying function of conspiracy theories. Political Psychology, 39, 465-478. doi:10.1111/pops.12404
    This research demonstrates that conspiracy theories – often represented as subversive alternatives to establishment narratives – may bolster, rather than undermine, support for the social status quo when its legitimacy is under threat. A pilot study (N = 98) found a positive relationship between conspiracy belief and satisfaction with the status quo. In Study 1 (N = 120), threatening (vs. affirming) the status quo in British society caused participants to endorse conspiracy theories. In Study 2 (N = 159), exposure to conspiracy theories increased satisfaction with the British social system after this had been experimentally threatened. In Study 3 (N = 109), this effect was mediated by the tendency for participants exposed (vs. not exposed) to conspiracy theories to attribute societal problems relatively more strongly to small groups of people rather than systemic causes. By blaming tragedies, disasters and social problems on the actions of a malign few, conspiracy theories can divert attention from
    the inherent limitations of social systems.
  • Rutjens, B., Sutton, R., & van der Lee, R. (2018). Not all skepticism is equal: Exploring the ideological antecedents of science acceptance and rejection. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 44, 384-405. doi:10.1177/0146167217741314
    Many topics that scientists investigate speak to people’s ideological worldviews. We report three studies—including an analysis of large-scale survey data— in which we systematically investigate the ideological antecedents of general faith in science and willingness to support science, as well as of science skepticism of climate change, vaccination, and GM. The main predictors are religiosity and political orientation, morality, and science understanding. Overall, science understanding is associated with vaccine and GM food acceptance, but not climate change acceptance. Importantly, different ideological predictors are related to the acceptance of different scientific findings. Political conservatism best predicts climate change skepticism. Religiosity, alongside moral purity concerns, best predicts vaccination skepticism. GM food skepticism is not fueled by religious or political ideology. Finally, religious conservatives consistently display a low faith in science and an unwillingness to support science. Thus, science acceptance and rejection have different ideological roots, depending on the topic of investigation.
  • Lucas, T., Strelan, P., Karremans, J., Sutton, R., Najmi, E., & Malik, Z. (2018). When does priming justice promote forgiveness? On the importance of distributive and procedural justice for self and others. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 13, 471-484. doi:10.1080/17439760.2017.1303533
    Two studies show that thinking about justice can both enhance and impede forgiveness, depending on whether thoughts about distributive and procedural justice for self and others are activated. In Study 1 (n = 197), participants expressed more forgiveness towards a prior transgressor when primed to think about justice for self or procedural justice for others, and less forgiveness when primed to think about distributive justice for others. Study 2 (n = 231) used an alternate priming method and replicated these effects by inducing an interpersonal transgression and measuring forgiveness intentions, emotions and behavior. Study 2 also showed that priming justice influences forgiveness especially when the perceived severity of an interpersonal offense is high. The current research shows that activating justice cognitions can enhance or impinge on forgiveness in predictable ways. We discuss contributions to emerging justice theory, potential implications, and future directions.
  • Rutjens, B., Heine, S., Sutton, R., & van Harreveld, F. (2018). Attitudes Towards Science. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 57, 125-165. doi:10.1016/bs.aesp.2017.08.001
    As science continues to progress, attitudes towards science seem to become ever more polarized. Whereas some put their faith in science, others routinely reject and dismiss scientific evidence. The current chapter provides an integration of recent research on how people evaluate science. We organize our chapter along three research topics that are most relevant to this goal: ideology, motivation, and morality. We review the relations of political and religious ideologies to science attitudes, discuss the psychological functions and motivational underpinnings of belief in science, and describe work looking at the role of morality when evaluating science and scientists. In the final part of the chapter, we apply what we know about science evaluations to the current crisis of faith in science and the open science movement. Here, we also take into account the increased accessibility and popularization of science and the (perceived) relations between science and industry.
  • Douglas, K., Sutton, R., & Cichocka, A. (2017). The psychology of conspiracy theories. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26, 538-542. doi:10.1177/0963721417718261
    What psychological factors drive the popularity of conspiracy theories that explain important events as secret plots by powerful and malevolent groups? What are the psychological consequences of adopting these theories? We review the current research, and find that it answers the first of these questions more thoroughly than the second. Belief in conspiracy theories appears to be driven by motives that can be characterized as epistemic (understanding one’s environment), existential (being safe and in control of one’s environment) and social (maintaining a positive image of the self and the social group). However, little research has investigated the consequences of conspiracy belief, and to date, this research does not indicate that conspiracy belief fulfills people’s motivations. Instead, for many people conspiracy belief may be more appealing than satisfying. Further research is needed to determine for whom, and under what conditions, conspiracy theories may satisfy key psychological motives.
  • Cichocka, A., Górska, P., Jost, J., Sutton, R., & Bilewicz, M. (2017). What inverted U can do for your country: A curvilinear relationship between confidence in the social system and political engagement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 115, 883-902. doi:10.1037%2Fpspp0000168
    We examined the link between political engagement and the tendency to justify the sociopolitical system. On one hand, confidence in the system should be negatively related to political engagement, insofar as it entails reduced desire for social change; on the other hand, system confidence should also be positively related to political engagement to the extent that it carries an assumption that the system is responsive to citizens' political efforts. Because of the combination of these 2 opposing forces, the motivation for political engagement should be highest at intermediate levels of system confidence. Five studies revealed a negative quadratic relationship between system confidence and normative political engagement. In 2 representative surveys, Polish participants with moderate levels of system confidence were more likely to vote in political elections (Study 1) and to participate in solidarity-based collective action (Study 2). Two field studies demonstrated a negative quadratic relationship between system confidence and actual participation in political demonstrations (gender equality and teachers' protests in Poland; Studies 3 and 4). This pattern of results was further corroborated by analyses of data from 50 countries drawn from the World Value Survey: we observed negative quadratic relationships between system confidence and collective action as well as voting. These relationships were stronger in democratic (vs. nondemocratic) regimes (Study 5). Our results suggest that some degree of system confidence might be useful to stimulate political engagement within the norms of the system.
  • Sutton, R., Stoeber, J., & Kamble, S. (2017). Belief in a just world for oneself versus others, social goals, and subjective well-being. Personality and Individual Differences, 113, 115-119. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2017.03.026
    The belief in a just world (BJW) affects subjective well-being and social behavior. However, its role in shaping the social goals that underlie behavior has not been investigated. Informed by the bidimensional model of BJW, the present study examined the relations of BJW for the self (BJW-self) versus BJW for other people (BJW-others) with social goals and subjective well-being in a sample of 398 university students. As predicted, BJW-self was positively related to affiliative social goals including nurturance, intimacy, and social development goals. In contrast, BJW-others was positively related to dominance and social demonstration goals. Consistent with the bidimensional model, BJW-self and BJW-others were related to most social goals in opposing directions. The present findings indicate that BJW-self and BJW-others is not only relevant to how people act in relation to others, but also why they act the way they do.
  • Harvey, A., Callan, M., Sutton, R., Foulsham, T., & Matthews, W. (2016). Selective exposure to deserved outcomes. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 69, 33-43. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2016.10.001
    Research has shown that people often reinterpret their experiences of others' harm and suffering to maintain the functional belief that people get what they deserve (e.g., by blaming the victim). Rather than focusing on such reactive responses to harm and suffering, across 7 studies we examined whether people selectively and proactively choose to be exposed to information about deserved rather than undeserved outcomes. We consistently found that participants selectively chose to learn that bad (good) things happened to bad (good) people (Studies 1 to 7)—that is, they selectively exposed themselves to deserved outcomes. This effect was mediated by the perceived deservingness of outcomes (Studies 2 and 3), and was reduced when participants learned that wrongdoers otherwise received “just deserts” for their transgressions (Study 7). Participants were not simply selectively avoiding information about undeserved outcomes but actively sought information about deserved outcomes (Studies 3 and 4), and participants invested effort in this pattern of selective exposure, seeking out information about deserved outcomes even when it was more time-consuming to find than undeserved outcomes (Studies 5 and 6). Taken together, these findings cast light on a more proactive, anticipatory means by which people maintain a commitment to deservingness.
  • Douglas, K., Sutton, R., Callan, M., Dawtry, R., & Harvey, A. (2016). Someone is pulling the strings: Hypersensitive agency detection and belief in conspiracy theories. Thinking and Reasoning, 22, 57-77. doi:10.1080/13546783.2015.1051586
    We hypothesized that belief in conspiracy theories would be predicted by the general tendency to attribute agency and intentionality where it is unlikely to exist. We further hypothesized that this tendency would explain the relationship between education level and belief in conspiracy theories, where lower levels of education have been found to be associated with higher conspiracy belief. In Study 1 (N=202) participants were more likely to agree with a range of conspiracy theories if they also tended to attribute intentionality and agency to inanimate objects. As predicted, this relationship accounted for the link between education level and belief in conspiracy theories. We replicated this finding in Study 2 (N=330), whilst taking into account beliefs in paranormal phenomena. These results suggest that education may undermine the reasoning processes and assumptions that are reflected in conspiracy belief.
  • Dawtry, R., Sutton, R., & Sibley, C. (2015). Why wealthier people think people are wealthier, and why it matters: From social sampling to redistributive attitudes. Psychological Science, 26, 1389-1400. doi:10.1177/0956797615586560
    Two studies provide evidence that social sampling processes (Galesic, Olsson & Reiskamp, 2012) lead wealthier people to oppose redistributive policies. In samples of American Internet users, wealthier participants reported higher levels of wealth in their social circles (Studies 1a, 1b). This was associated, in turn, with estimates of higher mean wealth in the wider US population, greater perceived fairness of the economic status quo, and opposition to redistributive policies. Furthermore, results from a large-scale nationally representative New Zealand survey revealed that low levels of neighbourhood-level socioeconomic deprivation –an objective index of wealth within participants’ social circles – mediated the relation between income and satisfaction with the economic status quo (Study 2). These findings held controlling for relevant variables including political orientation and perceived self-interest. Social-structural inequalities appear to combine with social sampling processes to shape the different political attitudes of wealthier and poorer people.
  • Douglas, K., & Sutton, R. (2015). Climate change: Why the conspiracy theories are dangerous. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 71, 98-106. doi:10.1177/0096340215571908
    Uncertainty surrounds the public understanding of climate change and provides fertile ground for conspiracy theories. Typically, such conspiracy theories assert that climate scientists and politicians are distorting or hijacking the science to suit their own purposes. Climate change conspiracy theories resemble other conspiracy theories in some respects, but in others they appear to be quite different. For example, climate change conspiracy theories appear to be motivated by the desire to deny or minimize an unwelcome and threatening conclusion. They also appear to be more contentious than other types of conspiracy theories. Perhaps to an unparalleled extent, people on both sides of the issue champion climate change conspiracy theories. Finally, more than other conspiracy theories, those concerning climate change appear to be more politically loaded, dividing opinion across the left-right continuum. Some empirical evidence suggests that climate change conspiracy theories may be harmful, steering people away from environmentally friendly initiatives. They therefore present a significant challenge for governments and environmental organizations that are attempting to convince people to take action against global warming.
  • Calogero, R., Pina, A., & Sutton, R. (2014). Cutting words: Priming self-objectification increases the intention to pursue cosmetic surgery. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 38, 197-207. doi:10.1177/0361684313506881
    We examined whether subtle exposure to sexually objectifying cues increases women’s intentions to have cosmetic surgery. Undergraduate women (N = 116) were randomly assigned to a condition in which they unscrambled sentences containing words associated with sexual objectification, non-self-objectifying physicality, or neutral content. Following a manipulation check of these primes, participants reported their body shame and intentions to have cosmetic surgery in the future. Results revealed that priming a state of self-objectification, compared to the two non-self-objectifying conditions, increased both body shame and intentions to have cosmetic surgery. In a mediational model, the link between self-objectification and intentions to have cosmetic surgery was partially mediated by body shame. Controlling for other key intrapersonal and social motives linked to interest in cosmetic surgery did not alter these patterns. These findings highlight the potential for the consumption of cosmetic surgery to stand as another harmful micro-level consequence of self-objectification that may be perpetuated via subtle exposure to sexually objectifying words, even in the absence of visual depictions or more explicit encounters of sexual objectification.
  • Callan, M., Sutton, R., Harvey, A., & Dawtry, R. (2014). Immanent justice reasoning: Theory, research, and current directions. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 49, 392. Retrieved from http://store.elsevier.com/Advances-in-Experimental-Social-Psychology/isbn-9780128000526/
    Immanent justice reasoning involves causally attributing a deserved outcome to someone’s prior moral deeds or character, even when such a causal connection is physically implausible. This chapter describes a body of work showing that immanent justice reasoning is (a) motivated, in part, by the need to construe outcomes as deserved; (b) driven by intuitive more than controlled mental processes; and (c) more openly expressed among individuals who believe in supernatural phenomena. This review also documents several additional lines of inquiry exploring key assumptions about the nature, origins, and functions of immanent justice reasoning, including immanent justice reasoning for self-relevant fortuitous outcomes, the social-communicative function of immanent justice reasoning, and the interplay between immanent justice and normative causal reasoning. Early research portrayed immanent justice reasoning as unique to children, but the chapter identifies several conditions under which it is predictably displayed by adults. Immanent justice reasoning serves important psychological functions in adulthood, and is underpinned by reasoning processes and metaphysical assumptions that are not put away when children become adults.
  • Loughnan, S., Haslam, N., Sutton, R., & Spencer, B. (2014). Dehumanization and social class: Animality in the stereotypes of "white trash," "chavs," and "bogans". Social Psychology, 45, 54-61. doi:10.1027/1864-9335/a000159
    Three studies examined whether animality is a component of low-SES stereotypes. In Study 1a–1c, the content of “white trash” (USA), “chav” (UK), and “bogan” (Australia) stereotypes was found to be highly consistent, and in every culture it correlated positively with the stereotype content of apes. In Study 2a and 2b, a within-subjects approach replicated this effect and revealed that it did not rely on derogatory labels or was reducible to ingroup favoritism or system justification concerns. In Study 3, the “bogan” stereotype was associated with ape, rat, and dog stereotypes independently of established stereotype content dimensions (warmth, competence, and morality). By implication, stereotypes of low-SES people picture them as primitive, bestial, and incompletely human.
  • Callan, M., Harvey, A., & Sutton, R. (2014). Rejecting victims of misfortune reduces delay discounting. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 51, 41-44. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2013.11.002
    The derogation of innocent victims may bolster perceivers’ implicit faith that the world is a just place. A key theoretical outcome of this faith is the ability to put aside smaller, short-term rewards for larger, long-term rewards. The empirical relation between victim derogation and participants’ preferences for small-sooner versus larger-later rewards was examined in two studies using delay-discounting paradigms. In Study 1 (n = 381), the more college students and Internet users derogated a victim of misfortune, the less they subsequently discounted larger-later rewards, but only when their faith in justice was threatened (perpetrators of the misfortune were unpunished). In Study 2 (n = 238), informing Internet users that a victim was of bad (versus good) moral character decreased delay discounting. These results demonstrate that derogating victims of misfortune, although damaging to others, yields an important psychological benefit for the self by putting aside smaller-sooner rewards for larger-later rewards.
  • Douglas, K., & Sutton, R. (2014). “A Giant Leap for Mankind”, but What About Women? The Role of System-Justifying Ideologies in Predicting Attitudes Toward Sexist Language. Journal of Language and Social Psychology. doi:10.1177/0261927X14538638
    Sexist language excludes, trivializes or diminishes either gender. Despite efforts by many
    professional bodies to encourage the use of nonsexist alternatives, sexist language use
    persists across many languages. Further, research has shown that men are less supportive of
    nonsexist language alternatives than women, and that this effect is mediated by attitudes
    toward women. We propose that broader ideologies related to the perceived legitimacy of
    dominance hierarchies and existing social systems also explain this gender gap. British
    undergraduate participants completed measures of attitudes toward women, gender-specific
    system justification, and social dominance orientation. They also completed an inventory of
    attitudes toward sexist language. There was a strong gender difference in attitudes toward
    sexist language that was significantly mediated by gender-specific system justification and
    social dominance orientation. The relationship between gender and attitudes toward sexist
    language therefore appears to be driven by broader ideologies that serve to keep women “in
    their place”.
  • Wu, M., Sutton, R., Yan, X., Zhou, C., Chen, Y., Zhu, Z., & Han, B. (2013). Time frame and justice motive: Future perspective moderates the adaptive function of general belief in a just world. PLoS ONE. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0080668
    Background: The human ability to envision the future, that is, to take a future perspective (FP), plays a key role in the justice motive and its function in transcending disadvantages and misfortunes. The present research investigated whether individual (Study 1) and situational (Study 2) differences in FP moderated the association of general belief in a just world (GBJW) with psychological resilience.
    Methodology/Principal Findings: We investigated FP, GBJW, and resilience in samples of adolescents (n = 223) and disaster survivors (n = 218) in China. In Study 1, adolescents revealed stronger GBJW than PBJW, and GBJW uniquely predicted resilience in the daily lives of those with high FP (but not those with low FP). In Study 2, natural priming of FP (vs. no FP) facilitated the association of GBJW with resilience after disaster.
    Conclusions/Significance: Supporting predictions, participants endorsed GBJW more strongly than PBJW. Further, GBJW interacted with FP in both studies, such that there was an association between GBJW and resilience at high but not low levels of FP. The results corroborate recent findings suggesting that GBJW may be more psychologically adaptive than PBJW among some populations. They also confirm that focusing on the future is an important aspect of the adaptive function of just-world beliefs.
  • Hartley, B., & Sutton, R. (2013). A stereotype threat account of boys’ academic underachievement. Child Development, 84, 1716-1733.
    Three studies examined the role of stereotype threat in boys’ academic underachievement. Study 1 (children aged 4-10, n = 238) showed that girls from age 4 and boys from age 7 believed, and thought adults believed, that boys are academically inferior to girls. In Study 2 stereotype threat was manipulated by informing children aged 7-8 (n = 162) that boys tend to do worse than girls at school. This hindered boys’ performance on a reading, writing, and math test, but did not affect girls’. In Study 3 stereotype threat was counteracted by informing children aged 6-9 (n= 184) that boys and girls were expected to perform similarly. This improved the performance of boys and did not affect that of girls.
  • Callan, M., Harvey, A., Dawtry, R., & Sutton, R. (2013). Through the looking glass: Focusing on long-term goals increases immanent justice reasoning. British Journal of Social Psychology, 52, 377-385. doi:10.1111/bjso.12022
    Immanent justice reasoning involves causally attributing a negative event to someone's prior moral failings, even when such a causal connection is physically implausible. This study examined the degree to which immanent justice represents a form of motivated reasoning in the service of satisfying the need to believe in a just world. Drawing on a manipulation that has been shown to activate justice motivation, participants causally attributed a freak accident to a man's prior immoral (vs. moral) behaviour to a greater extent when they first focused on their long-term (vs. short-term) goals. These findings highlight the important function believing in a just world plays in self-regulatory processes by implicating the self in immanent justice reasoning about fluke events in the lives of others.
  • Bertolotti, M., Catellani, P., Douglas, K., & Sutton, R. (2013). The “big two” in political communication: The effects of attacking and defending politicians’ leadership and morality in two European countries. Special issue: The Big Two in Social Judgement. Social Psychology, 44, 117-128.
    In two experimental studies (conducted in Britain and Italy), participants read about a politician answering to leadership- versus morality-related allegations using either downward counterfactuals (“things could have been worse, if…”) or upward counterfactuals (“things could have been better, if…”). Downward messages increased the perception of the politician’s leadership, while both downward and upward messages increased morality perception. Political sophistication moderated the effect of message direction, with downward messages increasing perceived morality in low sophisticates and upward messages increasing perceived morality in high sophisticates. In the latter group, the acknowledgement of a responsibility-taking intent mediated morality judgment. Results were consistent across different countries, highlighting previously unexplored effects of communication on the perception of the “Big Two” dimensions.
  • Correia, I., Alves, H., Sutton, R., Ramos, M., Gouveia-Pereira, M., & Vala, J. (2012). When do people derogate or psychologically distance from victims? Belief in a just world and ingroup identification. Personality and Individual Differences, 53, 747-752. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2012.05.032
    Two factors increase the threat for individuals’ belief in a just world (BJW) posed by an innocent victim: the degree of the observer’s explicit endorsement of BJW and the fact that the victim shares a common identity with the observer. In this paper, we aim to investigate whether or not these two factors (BJW and ingroup identi?cation) have an interaction effect on each of two mechanisms that reduce the threat to BJW: victim derogation and psychological distancing from the victims. In two studies with university students we predicted and found that BJW interacted with identi?cation with an ingroup victim to predict
    victim derogation (Study 1) and disidenti?cation from the group shared with the victim (Study 2). In Study 1, the positive relationship between BJW and derogation was signi?cant for strongly identi?ed participants but not for weakly identi?ed participants. In Study 2, high BJW was associated with low ingroup identi?cation only when group salience was activated.
  • Wood, M., Douglas, K., & Sutton, R. (2012). Dead and alive: Belief in contradictory conspiracy theories. Social Psychology and Personality Science, 3, 767-773.
    Conspiracy theories can form a monological belief system: a self-sustaining worldview comprised of a network of mutually supportive beliefs. The present research shows that even endorsement of mutually incompatible conspiracy theories are positively correlated. In Study 1 (n = 137), the more participants believed that Princess Diana faked her own death, the more they believed that she was murdered. In Study 2 (n = 102), the more participants believed that Osama Bin Laden was already dead when U.S. special forces raided his compound in Pakistan, the more they believed he is still alive. Hierarchical regression models showed that mutually incompatible conspiracy theories are positively associated because both are associated with the view that the authorities are engaged in a cover-up (Study 2). The monological nature of conspiracy belief appears to be driven not by conspiracy theories directly supporting one another, but by broader beliefs supporting conspiracy theories in general.
  • Jeffries, C., Hornsey, M., Sutton, R., Douglas, K., & Bain, P. (2012). The David and Goliath principle: Cultural, ideological and attitudinal underpinnings of the normative protection of low status groups from criticism. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 1053-1065.
    Two studies documented the “David and Goliath” rule – the tendency for people to perceive criticism of “David” groups (groups with low power and status) as less normatively permissible than criticism of “Goliath” groups (groups with high power and status). We confirmed the existence of the David and Goliath rule across five national samples (Study 1). However the rule was endorsed more strongly in Western than in Chinese cultures, an effect mediated by cultural differences in power distance. Study 2 identified the psychological underpinnings of this rule in an Australian sample. Lower social dominance orientation (SDO) was associated with greater endorsement of the rule, an effect mediated through the differential attribution of stereotypes. Specifically, those low in SDO were more likely to attribute traits of warmth and incompetence to David versus Goliath groups, a pattern of stereotypes that was related to the protection of David groups from criticism.
  • Murphy, A., Sutton, R., Douglas, K., & McClellan, L. (2011). Ambivalent sexism and the “do”s and “don’t”s of pregnancy: Examining attitudes toward proscriptions and the women who flout them. Personality and Individual Differences, 51, 812-816. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2011.06.031
    Pregnant women are subjected to popular and official advice to restrict their behaviour in ways that may not always be warranted by medical evidence. The present paper investigates the role of sexism in the proscriptive stance toward pregnancy. Consistent with expectations, both hostile and benevolent sexism were associated with endorsement of proscriptive rules such as “pregnant women should not take strenuous exercise” (Study 1, n =148). Also as predicted, hostile but not benevolent sexism was associated with punitive attitudes to pregnant women who flout proscriptions (Study 2, n = 124). In tandem with recent findings, the present results show that hostile as well as benevolent sexism is associated with proscriptive attitudes surrounding
  • Douglas, K., & Sutton, R. (2011). Does it take one to know one? Endorsement of conspiracy theories is influenced by personal willingness to conspire. British Journal of Social Psychology, 50, 544-552. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8309.2010.02018.x
    We advance a new account of why people endorse conspiracy theories, arguing that individuals use the social-cognitive tool of projection when making social judgments about others. In two studies, we found that individuals were more likely to endorse conspiracy theories if they thought they would be willing, personally, to participate in the alleged conspiracies. Study 1 established an association between conspiracy beliefs and personal willingness to conspire, that fully mediated a relationship between Machiavellianism and conspiracy beliefs. In Study 2, participants primed with their own morality were less inclined than controls to endorse conspiracy theories – a finding fully mediated by personal willingness to conspire. These results suggest that some people think “they conspired” because they think “I would conspire”.
  • Sutton, R., Douglas, K., & McClellan, L. (2011). Benevolent sexism, perceived health risks, and the inclination to restrict pregnant women’s freedoms. Sex Roles, 65, 596-605. doi:10.1007/s11199-010-9869-0
    The present study investigated the role of sexist ideology in perceptions of health risks during pregnancy and willingness to intervene on pregnant women’s behavior. Initially, 160 female psychology undergraduates at a university in the South East of England completed the
    Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (Glick & Fiske, 1996). Two months later, in an apparently unrelated study, they rated the safety of 45 behaviours during pregnancy (e.g., drinking
    alcohol, exercising, drinking tap water, and oral sex), and indicated their willingness to restrict pregnant women’s choices (e.g., by refusing to serve soft cheese or alcohol). As predicted, benevolent (but not hostile) sexism was related to willingness to restrict pregnant women’s choices. This effect was partially mediated by the perceived danger attributed to behaviours.
  • Strelan, P., & Sutton, R. (2011). When just-world beliefs promote and when they inhibit forgiveness. Personality and Individual Differences, 50, 163-168. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.09.019
    The present study provides further evidence that justice and forgiveness are not necessarily competitive responses. Among 157 undergraduates instructed to recall either serious or benign transgressions, just-world beliefs for the self (BJW-self) was associated with forgiveness as inhibition of negative responding but not forgiveness as positive responding. Each of these relations was significantly moderated by transgression severity: the more benign the transgression, the stronger the relationship. Just-world beliefs for others (BJW-others) was negatively associated with inhibition of negative responding and unrelated to positive responding. These relations held over and above well-established predictors of transgression-specific forgiveness (relationship closeness and post-transgression offender effort), and an individual difference variable, justice sensitivity. In practical terms, BJW-self may enable people to better deal with minor stressors. An important theoretical implication is that modelling the relationship between just-world beliefs and forgiveness requires a bidimensional conception of both constructs.
  • Sutton, R., Robinson, B., & Farrall, S. (2011). Gender, fear of crime, and self-presentation: An experimental investigation. Psychology, Crime & Law, 17, 421-433. doi:10.1080/10683160903292261
    The authors investigate gendered norms associated with the fear of crime. A sample of 100 men and women in a British market town completed a fear of crime survey having been instructed either to be 'totally honest and accurate', or to respond in a way that portrays them 'in the best possible light' ('fake good'). Men asked to 'fake good' reported less fear than men asked to respond honestly. This result is consistent with theories of masculinity that emphasize the importance of emotional invulnerability and self-sufficiency. In contrast, women asked to 'fake good' tended to report more fear than those asked to respond honestly. This result extends theories of how fear of crime curtails women's freedoms. Specifically, the fear of crime may be a prescriptive gendered norm in its own right, causing women (and men) to feel that their expressed fear is a yardstick by which they might be judged.
  • Douglas, K., & Sutton, R. (2011). Constructive or cruel? Positive or patronizing? Reactions to expressions of positive and negative stereotypes of the mentally ill. British Journal of Psychology, 102, 97-107. doi:10.1348/000712610X503339
    Previous research has shown that people respond with greater sensitivity to negative stereotypical comments about a group that are made from someone outside the group in question than from someone who belongs to the group. In this paper, we investigated if the same effect occurs in response to comments made about stigmatized groups. Specifically, we examined how people react to comments made about the mentally ill. The conditions under which people accept or reject stereotypes of the mentally ill may shed light on the conditions necessary for effective anti-discrimination campaigns. In the current study, participants responded to positive or negative stereotypes of the mentally ill voiced by either someone who has, or has not, suffered from a mental illness. Participants were more sensitive, agreed less, and evaluated the speaker less favourably when comments came from the out-group rather than the in-group source. The effects were strongest for negative comments, however contrary to previous research participants also responded less favourably to positive comments from the out-group source. These reactions were mediated by the perceived constructiveness of the speaker's motives. Implications for the effectiveness of anti-discrimination campaigns are discussed.


  • Sutton, R., & Douglas, K. (2013). Social Psychology. Palgrave MacMillan.

Book section

  • Douglas, K., Cichocka, A., & Sutton, R. (2020). Motivations, Emotions and Belief in Conspiracy Theories. In M. Butter & P. Knight (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Conspiracy Theories. Routledge. doi:10.4324/9780429452734
  • Douglas, K., Sutton, R., & Cichocka, A. (2019). Belief in conspiracy theories: Looking beyond gullibility. In J. Forgas & R. Baumeister (Eds.), The Social Psychology of Gullibility: Conspiracy Theories, Fake News and Irrational Beliefs. Routledge. Retrieved from https://www.routledge.com/The-Social-Psychology-of-Gullibility-Conspiracy-Theories-Fake-News-and/Forgas-Baumeister/p/book/9780367187934
    In this chapter, we consider the factors that attract people toward conspiracy theories and also consider whether or not belief in conspiracy theories is a sign of gullibility. We first review the framework of Douglas, Sutton, and Cichocka (2017), which explains that belief in conspiracy theories is driven by epistemic, existential, and social motives. In reviewing the literature on the psychology of conspiracy belief, we conclude that people who believe in conspiracy theories will not simply believe anything they hear. Instead, people appear to believe conspiracy theories that appeal to these three important psychological motives. Conspiracy believers can therefore not be dismissed as gullible and researchers should not characterize them as such. In the remainder of the chapter, we highlight some of the social consequences of conspiracy theories. To date, research reveals that while conspiracy theories may seem attractive to people when they are seeking to satisfy their psychological motives, unfortunately they may sometimes do more harm than good.
  • Douglas, K., Sutton, R., Jolley, D., & Wood, M. (2015). The social, political, environmental and health-related consequences of conspiracy theories: Problems and potential solutions. In M. Bilewicz, A. Cichocka, & W. Soral (Eds.), The psychology of conspiracy. Taylor and Francis.
  • Sutton, R., & Douglas, K. (2014). Examining the monological nature of conspiracy theories. In J. W. van Prooijen & P. A. M. van Lange (Eds.), Power, politics, and paranoia: Why people are suspicious of their leaders. Cambridge University Press.
    (Summary prepared for this repository). This chapter critically examines the often made claim that endorsement of conspiracy theories is characteristic of a "monological" world view (Goertzel, 1994) - in which claims about the causes of an event are not weighed against specific evidence about the event itself so much as abstract, mutually supportive beliefs about the pattern of previous events. Although beliefs in various conspiracy theories are robustly correlated, so that people who believe in one conspiracy theory are likely to believe in several others, this does not in itself demonstrate that conspiracy beliefs are rooted in, or symptomatic of, a monological worldview. There is little evidence to suggest the mindsets of adherents of conspiracy theories are generally more monological - in fact, some research suggests that 'conspiracy theorists' are more open, rather than more closed, to new ideas. Further, some conspiracy theories contradict, rather than reinforce, other conspiracy theories, suggesting that they do not comprise a closed ecosystem of mutually supportive ideas. The authors outline other accounts of why beliefs in various conspiracy theories tend to cluster together. For example, these beliefs are associated with similar personality variables, beliefs about the self, and beliefs about the world. Also explaining their correlation, they may be best viewed not as separate psychological variables but as facets of an underlying variable. The authors conclude that further research is needed to test some of the interesting predictions that may be derived from the monological worldview position. In the meantime, to portray conspiracy belief as a symptom of a monological world view is not yet warranted empirically, and may be unfairly derogatory.
  • Sutton, R., Cichocka, A., & van der Toorn, J. (2012). The corrupting power of inequality: Social-psychological consequences, causes and solutions. In A. Golec de Zavala & A. Cichocka (Eds.), The social psychology of social problems: The intergroup context (pp. 115-140). Basingstoke: Palgrave.
    This book chapter reviews diverse literatures bearing on the psychological consequences of economic inequality. These include work in sociology and public health on the correlates of inequality, research on game theory and social dilemmas, and social psychological analyses of ideology and identity. The chapter argues that that inequality is experienced as adverse or threatening social condition. In the current social and ideological climate, responses to inequality have a dilemmatic character. Psychological mechanisms that support "primary" coping mechanisms (opposing inequality) are at odds with those that support "secondary" coping mechanisms (coming to terms, emotionally and motivationally, with inequality).
  • Sutton, R., Hornsey, M., & Douglas, K. (2012). Feedback: Defining and surveying the field. In R. M. Sutton, M. J. Hornsey, & K. Douglas (Eds.), Feedback: The communication of praise, criticism and advice (Vol. 11). Peter Lang Publishers. Retrieved from http://www.peterlang.cn/index.cfm?event=cmp.ccc.seitenstruktur.detailseiten&seitentyp=produkt&pk=67761&concordeid=310512
  • Sutton, R., Hornsey, M., & Douglas, K. (2012). Feedback for theory, research and practice. In R. M. Sutton, M. J. Hornsey, & K. Douglas (Eds.), Feedback: The communication of praise, criticism and advice (Vol. 11). Peter Lang Publishers. Retrieved from http://www.peterlang.cn/index.cfm?event=cmp.ccc.seitenstruktur.detailseiten&seitentyp=produkt&pk=67761&concordeid=310512
  • Douglas, K., & Skipper, Y. (2012). Language and feedback. In R. M. Sutton, M. J. Hornsey, & K. Douglas (Eds.), Feedback: The communication of praise, criticism and advice (Vol. 11). Peter Lang Publishers. Retrieved from http://www.peterlang.cn/index.cfm?event=cmp.ccc.seitenstruktur.detailseiten&seitentyp=produkt&pk=67761&concordeid=310512

Research report (external)

  • Cameron, L., Pina, A., Calogero, R., & Sutton, R. (2015). Through their eyes and in their voices: The impact of gender on the lives of young people in England. Scoping review and considerations for future research. Report for the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, England. Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC).


  • Eriksson, K. (2017). Informal punishment of non-cooperators.
    According to an influential theory known as "strong reciprocity", humans cooperate at high levels due to the rise of altruistic punishers, that is, individuals who not only cooperate themselves but also informally punish non-cooperators. Strong reciprocity theory assumes that this punishment is costly to the punisher but beneficial to the group, that is, the punisher behaves altruistically. The theory further assumes that by engaging in this individually costly but group-beneficial behavior, punishers gain a good reputation. The aim of my dissertation is to critically examine the empirical validity of these assumptions through a series of experimental studies. Overall, I find that the assumptions of strong reciprocity theory are not supported. (1) Punishment of non-cooperators does not seem to be driven by punishers having the group's interest at heart. In fact, I find that punishers in economic cooperative games tend not to be more cooperative than non-punishers. Punishers also tend to punish both non-cooperators and cooperators. I conclude that punishers seem to be characterized by being generally punitive rather than being generally altruistic. (2) Punishers of non-cooperators do not seem to gain a good reputation in general. Rather, informal social norms about the use of punishment seem to restrict it more than encourage it. Moreover, people who face the choice of whether to punish a non-cooperator seem not to tend to think of punishing as the moral thing to do.

    My conclusion of these empirical results is that strong reciprocity theory paints an incorrect picture of the psychology of informal punishment of non-cooperators. I argue that this theory likely goes wrong already when it takes cooperative situations as its starting point, and that a better approach would be to assume that there is a more general psychology of informal punishment. I sketch what such an approach would entail.
  • Wilson, K. (2014). Sometimes, it’s not Right to go Left: The perceived consequences of endorsing political ideologies.
    The aim of the research within this thesis was to investigate lay people’s beliefs about political ideologies and related constructs. Specifically, I researched whether people recognise the functions of ideologies and recognise when strategically, it makes the most sense to endorse them. In nine studies, participants’ knowledge of ideological constructs was assessed. To begin with, participants’ knowledge was assessed indirectly by asking them about their own endorsement of variables, such as social dominance orientation, while imagining themselves embroiled within an international conflict. As the research progressed, more direct methods were used in which participants were asked whether endorsing left or right wing ideological constructs would promote inequality within society and palliative outcomes for individuals.
    In my first empirical chapter, I present three studies which assess under what specific conditions people will endorse SDO. These studies demonstrate how people endorse SDO strategically in response to specific contextual features of intergroup conflicts. Study 1 showed that people endorse SDO more when locked in an intergroup dilemma with a group which defects (vs. cooperates). In Study 2, the presence (vs. absence) of sunk costs – previous investments by the ingroup in a conflict – increased SDO. In Study 3, high stakes (compared to none) increased the endorsement of SDO. In Studies 2 and 3, increases in SDO elicited indirect effects of contextual factors on participants’ willingness to make further investments in the conflict.
    In my second empirical chapter, I consider whether this strategic adoption of ideological positions may be based on knowledge of their consequences for intergroup relations. In Study 4, participants evaluated a group described as being high (compared to low) in SDO as more likely to be committed to a conflict, more likely to invest in that conflict, and as a result, more likely to emerge successfully from that conflict. These results were replicated in Study 5, where I began to utilise more direct measures in order to explore lay theories of ideological variables. Participants were explicitly asked whether they thought endorsing ideological variables (SDO, conservatism and system justification) would promote outcomes including success in conflicts and maintaining inequality along with social cohesion within societies. Participants attributed both SDO and conservatism with promoting inequality and success within conflict whereas system justification was evaluated as likely to promote social cohesion. Chapter 5 provided compelling evidence that lay people have accurate knowledge of the functions of ideological constructs.
    In my third and fourth empirical chapters, I empirically examine the folk beliefs about political ideologies that may draw people to them. Across four studies, participants attributed both left and right wing ideologies as likely to promote aspects of hedonic and eudaimonic wellbeing for others and themselves. Furthermore, participants recognised, with a compelling degree of accuracy, that there are marked differences between left and right wing political ideologies in terms of closed-mindedness and the attitudes they promote towards inequality, just world beliefs and concern for others.
    Taken together, these findings suggest that lay individuals have accurate knowledge of the consequences of endorsing ideological variables and recognise when it makes strategic sense to do so. Although people’s ideological positions are determined by many factors, the present research suggests that one of these factors may be informed, strategic choice. That is, people may select or modify their ideological positions based on shared and surprisingly sophisticated understandings of their consequences. In the final chapter, I discuss how further research may explore the interplay between lay beliefs about political ideology and their consequences for political choice.


  • Cameron, L., Pina, A., Calogero, R., & Sutton, R. (2015). Through their eyes and in their voices: The impact of gender on the lives of young people in England. Scoping review and considerations for future research. Report for the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, England. Office of the Children’s Commissioner, England.
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