Individual Differences in Responses to Global Inequality


  • This research was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Council, FOR 481, STE 938/9–1, MI 747/3–1).


One of humanity's most pressing problems is the inequality between people from “developed” and “developing” countries, which counteracts joint efforts to combat other large scale problems. Little is known about the psychological antecedents that affect the perception of and behavioral responses to global inequality. Based on, and extending, Duckitt's dual-process model, the current research examines psychological antecedents that may explain how people in an industrialized Western country respond to global inequality. In two studies (N1 = 116, N2 = 117), we analyzed the relationship between the Big Five and justice constructs, right-wing authoritarianism (RWA), social dominance orientation (SDO), and behavioral intentions to reduce global inequality. Two-group path analysis revealed support for the dual-process model in that RWA and SDO were important predictors of behavioral intentions and partially acted as mediators between personality and such intentions. Moreover, justice sensitivity explained variance beyond the “classic” DPM variables. In Study 2, we additionally assessed individuals’ global social identification and perceived injustice of global inequality that explained additional variance. Extending previous work on the dual-process model, these findings demonstrate that individual and group-based processes predict people's responses to global inequality and uncover potentials to promote behavior in the interest of global justice.

In almost any part of the world, globalization impacts everyday life and shapes international and political relations. Globalization can be broadly defined as the “process of interaction and integration among the peoples, companies, and governments of different nations” (Chiu, Gries, Torelli, & Cheng, 2011, p. 664). It has led to rapid changes in economic, political, and cultural terms, and is responsible for economic growth in both “developed” and “developing”1 countries. Yet, it has also increased positive and negative interdependencies between nations and cultures. One rather negative outcome that is often attributed to globalization is the socioeconomic inequality between various regions in the world. This global inequality is enormous (Bata & Bergesen, 2002) and continuously increasing (UNDP, 2005, 2011; World Bank, 2001; see also Babones, 2002), and impedes coordinated action facing the world's large-scale problems such as poverty, climate change, and human rights violations. Global inequality is particularly pronounced between developed and developing countries (Bata & Bergesen, 2002). For example, the World Bank (2001) reported that the per capita Gross Domestic Product in the richest 20 countries was 37 times that of the poorest twenty countries—a tendency that is still increasing (e.g., UNDP, 2011).

On a macrolevel of analysis (e.g., where states, institutions, and large-scale corporations are the units of analysis), social scientists have generated fruitful explanations for the emergence and perpetuation of global inequality. On a microlevel (e.g., individual representations and behavior), however, research on global inequality is yet to be developed. The current research aims to contribute to this development, examining the cognitive-motivational processes that determine support for or opposition to global inequality. Emphasizing the microlevel processes related to a phenomenon such as global inequality (Olson, 1997; Reese, Berthold, & Steffens, 2012; Thomas, McGarty, & Mavor, 2010), we will focus on individual differences in personality and political ideologies, and hereby test a dual-process model of ideology and prejudice (DPM; Duckitt, 2001) in a field of politically relevant behavioral intentions.

The Psychology of Global Inequality

In the social sciences, the emergence and perpetuation of global inequality has been explained with global trade and globalization (e.g., Babones, 2002), colonial history and foreign corporate penetration (e.g., Beer & Boswell, 2002), and deregulated economies, diffusion of new technologies, or growing education disparities (see Bornschier, 2002).2 We suggest that processes linking macrostructures (i.e., institutions, states, regulations) with a macrosocial outcome (i.e., global inequality) should be accompanied by microlevel analyses of processes at the individual level. Analyzing individuals’ behavior can be relevant for understanding the processes that perpetuate global inequality, and can provide a procedural link between macrostructures and macrooutcomes (Coleman, 1987). When individuals are confronted with issues related to inequality, they respond in a variety of ways. Such responses include cognitive and emotional processes (e.g., denial of inequality, perceptions of [in]justice, feelings of pity, guilt, or sympathy) as well as individual, interpersonal, and intergroup behavior (e.g., donating money, civic engagement, buying fair-trade products). Creating a link between individual behaviors and problem solutions on a systemic level is important, because efforts to obtain structural changes for overcoming global inequality—and negative effects of globalization in general—require individuals’ compliance. The effectiveness of policies that mitigate global inequality depends on people's involvement and support, and thus on how people perceive their and others’ position in the global community (Reese et al., 2012). For instance, attending to the ways that individuals are receptive to or react against global inequality (e.g., by deciding which products they purchase, where they invest money, which charity organizations they support, or simply whether they demand more information) may suggest effective policies. To this end, it is vital to understand the factors that lead people to act in favor of global justice or not.

To our knowledge, few studies have assessed perceptions, emotions, attitudes, or behavioral intentions that directly relate to global inequality (Montada & Schneider, 1989; Olson, 1997; Reese et al., 2012; Smith, 1985; Thomas et al., 2010). Conceptually, Olson (1997) analyzed global inequality from a social justice perspective, suggesting 19 variables that should be specified in psychological research on global inequality. Some of these variables, such as the evaluator's identity, justice orientation, or justice focus, are in line with the idea that personality factors may be crucial for understanding how people perceive and respond to global inequality. Empirically, Montada and Schneider (1989) presented data that focused on responses to people from developing countries as a group of people disadvantaged by global inequality. In their study, prosocial behavior and intentions in favor of poor people from developing countries was predicted by participants’ emotional appraisals, justice beliefs, and social attitudes. More recently, Reese et al. (2012) used an intergroup approach to investigate perceptions of and responses to global inequality. Based on research in the tradition of social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979; see also Mummendey & Wenzel, 1999;), they showed that perceptions of prototypicality (i.e., how prototypical people from developed countries perceive their group for the world population, in comparison with people from developing countries) predicted behavioral intentions toward global inequality (e.g., reducing one's own standard of living). Moreover, they found that social dominance orientation (SDO; Pratto et al., 2006), but not belief in a just world (Lerner, 1980), predicted responses to global inequality. Taken together, these studies provide preliminary evidence that certain ideologies and individual-difference variables may be closely linked to how people as individual agents perceive and respond to global inequality. Drawing on those initial results, it seems fruitful to consider, and potentially extend, a dual-process model (DPM) of ideology and prejudice as suggested by Duckitt (2001) in the realm of research on global inequality.

Personality, Political Ideology, and Responses to Global Inequality

According to the DPM (Duckitt, 2001), ideological attitudes are organized along the two dimensions of SDO and right-wing authoritarianism (RWA, Altemeyer, 1981). Both ideological attitudes are assumed to reflect different “motivational goals” (Duckitt, 2001, p. 50). Whereas RWA reflects resistance to social change and the maintenance of the status quo, SDO reflects the endorsement of hierarchical structures and inequalities. Both RWA and SDO have consistently shown to be strong and independent predictors of prejudice and other sociopolitical outcomes (e.g., Altemeyer, 1981, 1998; Bizer, Hart, & Jekogian, 2012; Ekehammar, Akrami, Gylje, & Zakrisson, 2004; McFarland, 2010; Sidanius & Pratto, 2001). It is also likely that these constructs predict responses to global inequality. We assume that people from developed countries who are high in RWA do not actively seek to reduce global inequality or to change the global status quo, as long as it is not promoted by authorities. We further assume that people from developed countries who are high in SDO try to maintain their status, power, and dominance by justifying, and not acting against, global inequality. Therefore, RWA and SDO should be related negatively to intentions to reduce global inequality. In line with these theoretical points, there is also empirical evidence that suggests that individuals’ political ideology predicts responses to global inequality. Reese et al. (2012) showed that SDO was indeed negatively related to behavioral intentions toward global inequality. Similarly, Cohrs, Maes, Moschner, and Kielmann (2007) showed that RWA and SDO were negatively related to self-reported human rights behavior.

According to the DPM, the two personality traits of social conformity (a combination of low openness and high conscientiousness) and tough-mindedness (low agreeableness) seem to be of particular importance for the development of RWA and SDO, respectively (Duckitt, 2001; Perry & Sibley, 2012; see also Cohrs, Kämpfe-Hargrave, & Riemann, 2012). Moreover, in a meta-analysis on the relation between Big Five personality dimensions (for the Five-Factor Model of personality, see McCrae & Costa, 1997), RWA, SDO, and prejudice, Sibley and Duckitt (2008) showed that the effects of openness and agreeableness on prejudice were mediated via RWA and SDO, respectively. The value of a dual-process approach was demonstrated in various sociopolitical and intergroup contexts (Duckitt & Sibley, 2009). Drawing from this line of research, we expect behavioral intentions toward global inequality to be associated with higher openness and higher agreeableness, with the potential effects of openness and agreeableness being mediated by RWA and SDO, respectively.

Justice Sensitivity and Responses to Global Inequality

Although the concepts of political ideology and their integration into broader personality constructs are well documented in the intergroup attitudes literature, a justice perspective may add to the explanation of responses to global inequality. We suggest that it matters for responses to global inequality whether those inequalities are perceived as justified or justifiable, or not. Although, to our knowledge, there is only little evidence about people's justice beliefs regarding global inequality (but see Montada & Schneider, 1989), there is a vivid debate about this question in the social sciences (e.g., Fraser, 2005; Moellendorf, 2009; but see also Bhagwati, 2004). Psychologically, perceiving inequality may elicit different responses between those who perceive inequality to be unjust and those who do not (see, e.g., Maes & Schmitt, 1999; Vanneman & Pettigrew, 1972; Weber, Mummendey, & Waldzus, 2002). It is therefore necessary to differentiate between perceiving global inequality and perceiving global injustice. Schmitt, Gollwitzer, Maes, and Arbach (2005) proposed a specific personality variable—justice sensitivity—describing stable interindividual differences in the propensity to perceive injustice and with regard to the strength of reactions to perceived injustice. Components of justice sensitivity have been shown to correlate with neuroticism, as well as with agreeableness and openness (Schmitt et al., 2005), and predicted behavioural reactions to perceived injustice, such as prosocial tendencies toward people from disadvantaged groups (Gollwitzer, Schmitt, Schalke, Maes, & Baer, 2005). Assuming that people differ in the extent to which they perceive global inequality as unjust, it seems promising to explore the role of justice sensitivity as a personality variable that is closely related to injustice. More precisely, we predict that justice sensitivity as a genuine justice construct may facilitate people's responses toward global inequality, and thereby complement the routes proposed by the DPM.

Global Identity, Justice, and Responses to Inequality

So far, we claim that individual-difference variables are an important facet of understanding how people respond to global inequality. However, there is also reason to assume that group identification processes relate to such responses. When individuals identify with a relevant group, they perceive themselves as part of a larger social unit (e.g., Tajfel & Turner, 1979; Turner Hogg, Oakes, Reicher, & Wetherell, 1987). Consequently, this redefinition of the self as a group member results in behavior that serves the group's interest and maintains the group's welfare. With regard to global inequality, it is an intriguing question whether people do identify with the world community (i.e., with the exhaustive ingroup of humanity) and act correspondingly. If so, we assume that global social identification should be associated with intentions to reduce global inequality.

Research on moral development suggests that individuals’ moral development goes along with a broadening sphere of consideration, from self to friends to country, and ultimately including all humankind (i.e., the “integrated stage” of moral development; Loevinger, 1966; see also Haan, Smith, & Block, 1968). There is also evidence that identification with the world community is a meaningful psychological construct that may motivate behavior on a global scale. Buchan et al. (2011) investigated global cooperation among people from various countries. Using a multilevel public-goods dilemma, these authors tested whether global social identification predicted monetary contributions to a global good. In fact, the more strongly people identified with the world community, the more they contributed. It is important to note that this effect of global social identification was independent of whether participants expected a return on their investment. This suggests that people were truly concerned about the overall functioning of the group, rather than about parochial self-interests.

McFarland (2010), McFarland, Webb, and Brown, (2012) tested the relation between identification with all humanity and support for human rights. The author suggested that identification with all humanity is a deep and positive concern for all humanity—a “belief that all humanity is ‘family’” (McFarland, 2010, p. 1760). In several studies, McFarland et al. showed that identification with humanity correlated negatively with RWA, SDO, and ethnocentrism. More importantly, identification with humanity proved to be a distinct and positive predictor for human rights commitment (see also McFarland & Mathews, 2005).

Thus, with people identifying with the largest human social category, we explored—beyond the analysis of the DPM and justice sensitivity—whether such identification processes would also explain whether individuals are prone to reduce global inequality. Also, Wenzel's (2000, 2004) social categorization-based approach to distributive justice suggests that people (or groups) who belong to a common category are perceived to be entitled to the same reward allocations. Thus, identification with humankind may go along with a belief that everybody basically deserves the same outcomes, so that inequalities are perceived as unjust.

The Present Studies

The present research had several research goals. With the overall aim of contributing to the emerging psychological literature on globalization, we focused on global inequality as one of the outcomes of a globalizing world. In line with a DPM perspective (Duckitt, 2001), we predicted that RWA and SDO are key variables for understanding responses to global inequality, together with the Big Five variables openness to experience and agreeableness (McCrae & Costa, 1987). To tap into personality traits more specific to the current research questions, we introduced individuals’ overall justice sensitivity (Schmitt et al., 2005) into the DPM analysis. These questions were addressed in two studies.

In addition, in an exploratory fashion, we analyzed the relation between global identification and intentions to reduce global inequality (see also Buchan et al., 2011; McFarland et al., 2012) in the second study. Finally, we aimed to test whether global inequality would be perceived as global injustice, and whether perceived global injustice would predict behavioral intentions toward global inequality. In line with the idea that a global social identification should result in behavior that serves the group's interest and maintains the welfare of its group members (Tajfel & Turner, 1979), and with Wenzel's (2000, 2004) social categorization-based approach to distributive justice, we predicted that participants who identified strongly on a global scale would perceive global inequality to be unjust, and in turn indicate stronger behavioral intentions to reduce global inequality. To test this notion, we also included a specific measure of whether people perceived global inequality to be unjust in the second study.



Both studies were conducted during lectures at a mid-sized university in Germany. Participants were students from various disciplines (none of them majored in psychology) and participated in exchange for course credit. Study 1 was conducted at two measure points, with the first part being conducted 1 week before the second part. Overall, 119 students completed Study 1. Three participants were excluded from the analyses as they were non-native German speakers and reported difficulties with understanding items, and one participant was excluded because of an extreme Mahalanobis distance score (as well as a z score of –4.81 in agreeableness). The analyses were conducted with the remaining 115 participants (85 female, Mage = 21, SDage = 2.12). Most of these students (82%) had a major in sociology, education, or communication science.

Study 2 was conducted with a novel sample from the same university, participating in exchange for course credit. Of the 120 participants, three participants were excluded from the analyses as they were non-native German speakers and reported difficulties with understanding items, and one participant was excluded because of an extreme Mahalanobis distance score (as well as a z score of –3.26 in justice sensitivity). The analyses were conducted with the remaining 116 participants (90 female, Mage = 21, SDage = 2.44). Most of these students (73%) had a major in sociology, education, or communication science.

Procedure and Materials

During an introductory lecture for psychology minors, the study materials were administered in two parts. The first part included the predictor variables. The second part included the outcome variable—behavioral intentions. In both studies, the questionnaires included the subsequent variables, in the order they are presented below. All response scales used in this study were 7-point Likert scales with the endpoints “I totally disagree” (1) to “I totally agree” (7), unless stated otherwise. Internal consistencies of all primary variables, depicted in the diagonals of the correlation matrix presented in Table 2, were moderate (α = .72) to high (α = .90). At the end of both studies, demographic variables such as age, gender, study major, and economic situation were assessed.

Big five

Each of the dimensions of the Big Five was measured with items from the Big Five Inventory (John, Donahue, & Kentle, 1991) as translated into German by Rammstedt (1997). Neuroticism and extraversion were measured with 8 items each, conscientiousness with 9 items, and openness to experience and agreeableness with 10 items each. Higher values indicate higher neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Sample items were: “I am someone who…is talkative” (extraversion); “…does a thorough job” (conscientiousness); “…is depressed, blue” (neuroticism); “…is original, comes up with new ideas” (openness); “…is helpful and unselfish with others” (agreeableness). Items for each dimension were presented on a separate sheet of paper. In Study 2, only openness and agreeableness were measured.

Right-wing authoritarianism

We used the 12-item RWA-3D measure developed by Funke (2005). Higher values indicate stronger right-wing authoritarianism. Sample items are: “What our country really needs instead of more civil rights is a good stiff dose of law and order”; “The real keys to a ‘good life’ are obedience, discipline, and virtue.”

Social dominance orientation

SDO was measured with 12 items derived from Pratto et al. (2006; German translation by von Collani, 2002). Higher values indicate a stronger social dominance orientation. Sample items were: “Some people are just inferior to others;” “To get ahead in life, it is sometimes necessary to step on others.”

Justice sensitivity

Justice sensitivity was measured with items from the Justice Sensitivity Inventory developed by Schmitt, Baumert, Gollwitzer, and Maes (2010). This Inventory assesses four components of justice sensitivity (with 10 items each), of which two were used in this study (observer and perpetrator sensitivity) and collapsed into one justice sensitivity score. Since we were primarily interested in a stable personality-like justice construct, we did not differentiate between the components of justice sensitivity (e.g., perpetrator sensitivity, observer sensitivity).3 Higher values indicate higher justice sensitivity. Sample items were: “I am upset when someone is treated worse than others”; “I cannot stand the feeling of exploiting someone.”

Global identification (Study 2 only)

Global social identification was measured with five items. Higher values indicate a higher identification with the world community. English translations of the items are listed in Appendix 2a online.

Justice beliefs about global inequality (Study 2 only)

Justice beliefs about global inequality were measured with six items. Higher values indicate global inequality to be perceived as just. Translations of the items are listed in Appendix 2b online.

Behavioral intentions

The outcome variable, behavioral intentions toward global inequality, was measured using a scale adapted from Reese et al. (2012), which consists of seven items that assess various attitudes and intentions toward acting in favor of global equality (see Appendix 1 online; sample item: “I would reduce my standard of living if I could thereby contribute to decreasing global inequality”). It was designed to tap into general attitudes and intentions that, on the individual level, would be beneficial for acting against global inequality.4 The one-factorial scale proved reliable in both studies, and as an indication of construct validity, was related to beliefs about the legitimacy of global inequality (Reese et al., 2012). Higher values indicate stronger behavioral intentions to reduce global inequality.


Descriptive Statistics and Bivariate Relations for the main Variables

We first present descriptive statistics (Table 1) and intercorrelations (Table 2) for the main variables.

Table 1. Descriptive Statistics of Primary Study Variables in Studies 1 and 2
 Study 1Study 2


  1. Study 1: N = 115. Study 2: N = 116.

Openness to Experience4.670.774.60.75
Justice Sensitivity5.110.755.240.82
Global Social Identification3.961.24
Injustice of Global Inequality2.310.89
Behavioral Intentions5.10.885.051.08
Table 2. Intercorrelations (and Cronbach's Alphas in the Diagonal) of Primary Variables in Studies 1 and 2


  1. Study 1 (above the diagonal): N = 115, Study 2 (below the diagonal): N = 116. Cronbach's alphas Study1/Study2. Extra = Extraversion, Agree = Agreeableness, Consc = Conscientiousness, Neuro = Neuroticism, Open = Openness, SDO = Social Dominance Orientation, RWA = Right-Wing Authoritarianism; Jus-Sen = Justice Sensitivity, Global Id = Global Social identification, Justice = Justice of global inequality, Intention = Behavioral Intentions to reduce global inequality. *p < .05, p < .10.

(1) Extra.89/−−.04.16−.*.11.03
(2) Agree.65/.67.16−.20*−.13−.
(3) Consc.89/−.*.25*.06
(4) Neuro.87/−−.13−.04.03.23*−.02
(5) Open.15.76/.72−.18−.25*.14.24*
(6) SDO−.29*−.26*.79/.88.41*−.30*−.36*
(7) RWA−.21*−.22*.55*.77/.78−.12−.34*
(8) Jus-Sen.26*.38*−.56*−.30*.94/.92.44*
(9) Global Id.25*.29*−.32*−.24*.43*−/.88
(10) Justice−.15−.26*.53*.46*−.45*−.41*−/.77
(11) Intentions.43*.44*−.62*−.48*.51*.48*−.62*.82/.86

Study 1

There were no or only very small relations among the Big Five dimensions. Justice sensitivity correlated significantly with neuroticism and conscientiousness. RWA and SDO correlated moderately with each other. RWA was positively related to extraversion and conscientiousness and negatively to openness to experience. SDO, however, was only significantly negatively correlated with openness to experience. The expected negative correlation between SDO and agreeableness (r = –.10) did not reach significance. With regard to justice sensitivity, there was a significant negative correlation with SDO, but not with RWA.

Focusing now on the relations of the predictor variables with responses to global inequality, of the Big Five, only openness to experience was significantly positively correlated with behavioral intentions, as was justice sensitivity. Finally, and in line with previous findings on the relation between SDO, RWA, and negative attitudes, both SDO and RWA correlated significantly negatively with behavioral intentions to reduce global inequality.

Study 2

Most correlations among the personality and political ideology variables were replicated in Study 2, yet they were somewhat stronger than in Study 1.

Regarding the predictor variables, global social identification correlated significantly positively with the personality constructs (openness, agreeableness, and justice sensitivity) and negatively with RWA and SDO. In line with our expectations, higher levels of global identification were also related to stronger beliefs that global inequality is unjust. The belief that global inequality is just correlated positively with SDO and RWA. In contrast, openness to experience and justice sensitivity were related to the belief that global inequality is unjust.

With regard to behavioral intentions, Study 2 largely replicated the pattern found in Study 1. Agreeableness and openness to experience were significantly positively correlated with behavioral intentions. Also, justice sensitivity correlated positively with behavioral intentions toward global inequality. As in Study 1, both SDO and RWA correlated significantly negatively with behavioral intentions toward global inequality. In line with expectations derived from social identity theory, global social identification was positively related to behavioral intentions. So was perceived injustice: the more unjust global inequality was perceived, the stronger were behavioral intentions toward global inequality.

Path Analyses of the Extended Dual Process Model

Given the similarity of both studies, and the replicative nature of Study 2, we used a two-group path analysis—using Amos 21 with maximum likelihood estimation of parameters and the two studies included as two independent groups—to test whether behavioral intentions to reduce global inequality can be predicted in line with the DPM (see Figure 1). With two-group path analysis we were able to test the DPM for the two samples from Study 1 and Study 2, simultaneously. To closely match the assumptions of the DPM, of the Big Five factors only agreeableness and openness were included in the model. Additionally, we included justice sensitivity to test whether it predicts intentions to reduce global inequality independently of the paths predicted by the DPM.

Figure 1.

Path Model Studies 1 and 2. Values indicate unstandardized path coefficients (based on z-standardized variables), correlations between exogenous variables, and (in brackets) percentages of explained variance (first values: Study 1; second values: Study 2).

We first tested whether the parameter estimates were similar across the two samples overall (with all variables z-standardized within samples). A comparison between an unconstrained model with free estimations for each sample and a constrained model with all path coefficients constrained to be equal across the samples showed that there was no significant difference in fit, Δχ2(9) = 11.81, p = .22. Akaike's Information Criterion (AIC) was also smaller for the constrained model, AIC = 76.57, than for the unconstrained model, AIC = 82.75 (for fit indices, see, e.g., Kline, 2011). This suggests that the paths coefficients were invariant across the samples. The constrained model had very good fit, χ2(29) = 18.57, p = .14, SRMR = .057, CFI = .980, RMSEA = .043 (90% confidence interval [.000., .084]). In line with DPM assumptions, both RWA (b = –.21) and SDO (b = –.21) predicted behavioral intentions negatively, ps < .001. Thus, the higher participants scored on RWA and SDO, the weaker their intentions to reduce global inequality. Openness predicted RWA, so that the higher participants scored on openness, the lower they scored on RWA, b = –.15, p = .014. Agreeableness predicted SDO, so that the higher participants scored on agreeableness, the lower they scored on SDO, b = –.12, p = .019. Openness (b = .18) and agreeableness (b = .20) both also predicted behavioral intentions, ps < .001. Most importantly, bootstrapping analyses showed that openness also had a significant indirect effect on behavioral intentions via RWA of .03, p = .010, and agreeableness also had a significant indirect effect on behavioral intentions via SDO of .03, p = .020.

Interestingly, justice sensitivity had an independent effect beyond the assumptions of the DPM, so that participants scoring higher on justice sensitivity showed stronger intentions to reduce global inequality, b = .27, p < .001. In addition, justice sensitivity predicted RWA, b = –.16, p = .013, and SDO, b = −.43, p < .001, and had an indirect effect on behavioral intentions via RWA and SDO of .12, p < .001.

Exploratory Analysis of Global Identification and Global Justice

We were interested whether global identity and justice concerns were relevant predictors of intentions to reduce global inequality beyond the DPM and its justice sensitivity extension we introduced here. Based on our reasoning, global identification should go along with a belief that all humans deserve the same outcomes so that global inequality should be seen as unjust. In turn, the more justified global inequality is seen, the weaker should the intentions to reduce global inequality be. We tested these assumptions in an additional path model, however, based on the sample of Study 2 only. We included global identification and perceived global injustice into the extended dual process model above to allow a comprehensive model test. Global identification was conceptualized as a group-level variable that operates at the same level as the individual-difference variables RWA and SDO (see Figure 2).

Figure 2.

Path Model Study 2. Values indicate unstandardized path coefficients (based on z-standardized variables), correlations between exogenous variables, and (in brackets) percentages of explained variance.

The overall model had a very good fit, χ2(9) = 12.20, p = .20, SRMR = .053, CFI = .99, RMSEA = .056 (90% confidence interval [.000., .126]). As before, SDO negatively predicted behavioral intentions directly, as well as indirectly via global injustice, –.11, p = .002. The effect of RWA on behavioral intentions, however, was fully mediated via global injustice, –.07, p = .011 (when included, the direct effect of RWA on behavioral intentions was negligible, b = –.07, p = .29). Most interestingly, in Study 2, justice sensitivity had no direct effect on behavioral intentions, suggesting that its bivariate effect on behavioral intentions is explained by other model variables (the direct effect, when included, was negligible, b = .01, p = .88). Indeed, global identification (b = .14, p = .028) and perceptions of global injustice (b = –.33, p < .001) were significantly related to behavioral intentions to reduce global inequality. The more participants identified with the world population, and the less just global inequality was perceived, the stronger were their intentions to act against global inequality. RWA and SDO (as already shown in the two-group model above) plus global identification and perceptions of global injustice together fully mediated the effect of justice sensitivity on behavioral intentions, .32, p < .001. The effect of global identification on behavioral intentions was partially mediated via global injustice, b = .08, p = .002. Possibly because of the reduced sample size, the effects of openness on RWA (p = .27) and agreeableness on SDO (p = .17) were not significant in this model.


In two studies, we analyzed processes that determine support for or opposition to global inequality. Understanding these processes is important because individuals act and decide within the macrostructures that drive globalization and its outcomes. The current studies represent a comprehensive analysis of individual difference dimensions predicting responses to global inequality. We measured these responses with behavioral intentions to reduce global inequality (Reese et al., 2012), and found support for the hypotheses derived from previous research.

Overall, in line with expectations derived from the DPM (Duckitt, 2001; Sibley & Duckitt, 2008), it seems that RWA and SDO play an important role in the development of behavioral intentions to reduce global inequality. Thus, the present studies provide evidence for the role of RWA and SDO in the context of global intergroup relations. Beyond the role of ideological attitudes, like RWA and SDO, broad personality dimensions (openness and agreeableness) were shown to facilitate action against global inequality. In line with predictions from the DPM, those relations were partially mediated via RWA for openness and SDO for agreeableness. In addition to the DPM routes, however, justice sensitivity seems to be another important personality predictor of intentions to reduce global inequality, and its effect was partially mediated via RWA and SDO.

In addition to this analysis in the DPM frame, we explored antecedents of actions against global inequality rooted in social identity concerns. In line with previous findings on the effects of global social identification on other outcome variables (Buchan et al., 2011; McFarland, 2010; McFarland et al., 2012), we showed that the more strongly people identified with the world population as a whole, the stronger were their intentions to engage in behavior against global inequality. Consistent with Wenzel's (2000, 2004) social categorization-based approach to distributive justice, this effect was partly mediated via the belief that global inequality is unjust. Most importantly, these social identity concerns explained variance beyond the DPM variables. Overall, these findings show that a focus on individual difference variables and social identity constructs is fruitful to understand how people respond to global inequality.

Theoretical Contributions

Theoretically, four issues seem particularly important. First, responses to global inequality—in this particular case, intentions to reduce global inequality—seem to follow similar processes as behavior and attitudes towards outgroups, as predicted by the DPM (Duckitt, 2001). By extending the DPM approach to a global intergroup context, its value in various sociopolitical and intergroup contexts is once more underlined (see Duckitt & Sibley, 2009). More specifically, SDO and RWA are key variables that connect broad personality dimensions with individuals’ efforts to counteract status inequalities between groups. On a global scale, this suggests that a focus on individual-difference variables can help to understand the processes that make people work toward a society that is characterized by social equality, rather than inequality. This microlevel analysis is important, as the efforts to counteract global inequality (e.g., by means of political decisions) depend on individuals’ (political) decisions and behavior. For this reason, it is necessary to know why some people may act in favor of global equality and others do not.

The second important contribution concerns the role of justice-related constructs. The question of whether global inequality is unjust has been extensively discussed in other fields (e.g., Bhagwati, 2004; Fraser, 2005; Moellendorf, 2009), but an empirical examination of psychological processes related to this question has yet been missing. We showed that individual differences in justice sensitivity were strongly related to behavioral intentions. As this effect was mediated via RWA and SDO (as well as global social identification), this suggests that RWA and SDO may also—at least implicitly—carry a strong component of justice beliefs that may be found in harsh reactions toward deviants (RWA) and a belief in the legitimacy of status hierarchies (SDO). On a more specific level, justice beliefs about global inequality were a strong predictor for behavioral intentions, suggesting that (at least some) people in an industrialized, Western country can indeed perceive global inequality as unjust, and use these beliefs as a basis for their intentions. More generally, these roles of justice-related variables resonate with the literature on moral emotions, in particular collective anger and guilt, which have been studied as a predictor of collective action in recent years (e.g., Leach, Iyer, & Pedersen, 2006, in relation to White Australians’ support for compensation to Aborigines; Ferguson & Branscombe, 2010, in relation to global warming). Though only a first indication, these results suggest that justice beliefs may represent an important component for the DPM (Duckitt, 2001), and that further research in the model's classic realm of prejudice and ethnocentrism would be useful. Perhaps the models’ dual processes underemphasize, to some extent, the role of justice concerns in the development and functioning of ideological attitudes.

The third theoretical contribution relates to global identification—the idea that people identify with the highest order social group (Turner et al., 1987). Although we were not the first to show that global identification has an impact on responses that may enable a more cooperative cohabitation among humans (Buchan et al., 2011; McFarland, 2010; McFarland et al., 2012), we showed that the belief in justice links global identification with respective outcomes—in our case, intentions to reduce global inequality. This finding suggests that identification with the world population can indeed be a meaningful part of people's identity that predicts beliefs about what is just or not (Wenzel, 2000, 2004), thereby explaining variation in attitudinal or behavioral outcomes.

Finally, we think a fourth issue deserves comment. In Study 1, we found that neuroticism was positively related to justice sensitivity, a finding in line with Schmitt et al.'s analysis of justice sensitivity (Schmitt et al., 2005). This finding is of particular interest as it shows that neuroticism can relate to rather positive behavioral characteristics, namely, being sensitive for those who suffered from unjust treatment. Interestingly, McFarland et al. (2012) also reported that neuroticism correlated positively with “identification with all humanity,” a concept of global identity that carries a strong notion of deep caring for all humans. These positive characteristics (see also Turiano, Mroczek, Moynihan, & Chapman, 2013) associated with neuroticism are often overlooked. We suggest that future research takes into account these associations to assess how neuroticism may inform political behavior, and thereby complement the debate of a nearly stigmatized personality trait (Lahey, 2009).

Limitations, Future Directions, and Societal Impact

The studies presented here do not allow causal inferences about the determinants of global inequality related intentions. Yet, we have provided a conceptual and empirical framework that future research can build upon. In particular, we found evidence for our assumption that RWA and SDO are important constructs that provide a procedural link between personality and responses against global inequality. We suggest that future research dealing with questions of global inequality, cooperation, and human rights support should embrace longitudinal studies with larger (and preferably international) samples to allow the analysis of causal relationships between personality variables, ideology, and behavioral outcomes.

Also, it may be fruitful to focus on actual behavioral outcomes that go beyond mere intentions. For example, longitudinal studies could employ measures of donation behavior, election behavior, or consumer choices. This is necessary, given that attitudes or intentions do not necessarily result in corresponding behavior (see Duckitt, 1992, for a review). The meta-analysis by Kraus (1995) identified several moderators that can strengthen intention–behavior link. For example, it is likely that the strength of the attitude toward global inequality impacts on whether people act in favor of global equality. Also, a greater conceptual fit between attitude and behavior may result in a stronger link between them. Thus, when specific attitudes and intentions toward global inequality—rather than general views of inequality—are assessed, specific behavior directed toward supporting global equality should become more likely. In fact, in Study 2 we asked participants at the end of the study whether they would like to receive more information about global inequality. They could enter their email address on a separate slip, and put it into a box at the lecture hall exit. Simple logistic regression models showed that the likelihood to provide an email address was significantly increased by global identification, behavioral intentions, and the belief that global inequality is unjust, suggesting that concerns about global identity and global justice may foster actual behavioral change.

Another limitation of the current studies is that their samples stemmed from a highly industrialized developed country. While these findings may transfer to other, similar contexts, it is necessary to investigate perspectives from other countries—in particular from those that are most disadvantaged by global inequality. This could bring forward a more comprehensive picture of the general processes that determine responses to global inequality, and also theoretically contribute to the understanding of justice beliefs among people from developing countries (Carr & MacLachlan, 1998). Also, it is desirable to test the assumptions with a more heterogeneous sample than the current student sample. However, it is noteworthy that our students came from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds (e.g., physics, education, sociology, IT) so that it is as such more heterogeneous than psychology majors—a factor that needs to be taken into account given differences in RWA and SDO between psychology and other students (Guimond, Dambrun, Michinov, & Duarte, 2003).

Finally, we are not proposing that individual differences in personality and ideology are the main factors responsible for whether humans will reduce global inequality or not. By using rather homogeneous samples of university students in one particular country, we “zoomed in” on individual differences but ignored important sociostructural influences, including within-country variations in sociodemographic factors such as income and household size (which have been shown to be important predictors of sociopolitically relevant issues, such as environmental behavior; e.g., Poortinga, Steg, & Vlek, 2004) as well as between-country variations in economic and political factors as well as collective norms and values (e.g., Gelissen, 2007, again concerning environmental behavior). We are also not proposing that the behavior of individuals can directly reduce global inequality. Rather, collective action has the potential to effect the necessary political, social, and economic changes (e.g., Simon & Klandermans, 2001; Subašić, Reynolds, & Turner, 2008). However, individual differences in personality and ideology may well contribute to participation in, and the shaping of, collective action and may set boundaries on what political and social influences processes might be effective (e.g., Postmes, Haslam, & Swaab, 2005; Sherif, 1970). Our results may also inform public discussion: The idea of a “global citizen” is strongly connected to global identification, and its concept is known beyond scientific borders. Informing legislative and political leaders, the current findings may raise a growing sense and awareness of global interdependencies in institutionalized contexts (e.g., schools, public administration).


The current findings represent a step toward the development of a comprehensive and integrative model that helps understanding the determinants of responses against global inequality and injustice. Using student samples helps us to pinpoint the specific processes that previous research suggested. Future research should now focus on more heterogeneous samples, taking into account sociostructural variables as described above. For the moment, we propose that global relations may be conceptualized within an overarching global identity that might affect people's perceptions of global relations (see also Reese et al., 2012). Within our human world, individual dispositions and ideologies shape how global identity is perceived and how it relates to transnational behaviors and views.

  1. 1

    While there is no one, set definition of what a developed or a developing country is, indices of the degree of economic development (e.g., per capita income, general standard of living) divide countries into those with highly developed economies and advanced technological infrastructure and those without these characteristics (see also Sachs, 2005).

  2. 2

    Naturally, this brief overview is limited, but a comprehensive review of macro-oriented explanations of global inequality is out of the scope of this article (see for example Bornschier, 2002).

  3. 3

    The correlations between the components used in Studies 1 and 2 ranged from .54 to .73. Thus, it is feasible both for conceptual and statistical reasons to collapse the justice sensitivity measures.

  4. 4

    Using principal component analysis, we explored whether the scale we used in Study 1 (Study 2) can be interpreted as a general measure of behavioral intentions (see Reese et al., 2012). Indeed, one major factor with an eigenvalue of 3.43 (3.71) emerged that explained 49% (53%) of variance. All items loaded on this factor, ranging from .50 to .87 (.52 to .87). A scree plot analysis further supported one major factor, and all other eigenvalues were < 1.3 (< 1.2).


  • GERHARD REESE is Lecturer in Social and Environmental Psychology at the University of Luxemburg. He received his PhD in Psychology at the Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena. His research focuses on psychological dimensions of globalization, environmental protection, social injustice, and political ideology.

  • JUTTA PROCH is a research associate at the Department of Social Psychology at Friedrich Schiller University of Jena. She recently received her PhD from the Department of Personality Psychology in Jena. Her post-doctoral research focuses on moral disgust, global injustice as well as authoritarianism and social dominance orientation.

  • CHRISTOPHER COHRS is Assistant Professor in Social Psychology at Jacobs University Bremen. His research interests focus on political-ideological attitudes, prejudice against immigrants, attitudes to war and military intervention, and representations of intergroup conflict. In 2012 he founded a new international, peer-reviewed open-access journal: the Journal of Social and Political Psychology.