System Justification in Responding to the Poor and Displaced in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina


  • We thank Janet Ruscher and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on an earlier version of this article. Work was completed while the first author was supported by a Henry Mitchell MacCracken Fellowship from New York University and the second author was supported by a fellowship from the Ford Foundation administered through the National Research Council of the National Academies. Other assistance was provided by New York University, for which we are grateful.

*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to John T. Jost, Department of Psychology, New York University, 6 Washington Place, Room 578, New York, NY 10003-6634 [e-mail:].


We examine people's reactions to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, most of whom are minorities living in poverty, and we do so in terms of system justification theory. We propose that the social system was indirectly threatened for the public when inadequate relief efforts exposed governmental shortcomings, called into question the legitimacy of agency leadership, and highlighted racial inequality in America. In response to such system threats, both victims and observers (e.g., the general public, commentators, policy makers) are known to engage in various forms of system justification, including direct defense of the status quo, victim blaming, stereotyping, and internalization of inequality. These processes can reduce emotional distress and restore perceived legitimacy to the system, but they may have a number of troubling consequences for the storm victims in their efforts to return to normalcy.