Sub-project 2c: The causal mechanisms underlying the attitudes to redistribution in the presence of ethnic diversity


To deepen our understanding of the psychological background of attitudes towards the welfare state analysed in project 2b, we will, using methods in experimental psychology, test the psychological factors that underpin the effects of group membership and status on economic decision making. System Justification Theory (Jost et al., 2004) predicts that groups with a low status exhibit negative in-group biases (such as a depressed sense of entitlement in wage bargaining: Hogue and Yoder, 2003), whereas high status groups have negative out-group biases but positive in-group biases. The effects of status (Irons and Gilbert, 2005) as well as attitudes towards out-groups such as immigrants (Hofstra et al. 2005) also vary according to individual personality, and specifically attachment styles (Cassidy and Shaver, 2008). Furthermore, activating secure attachment representations experimentally (priming by e.g. showing subjects words that are associated with safety) reduces negative biases and discriminatory behaviour towards outgroups (Boag and Carnelly, 2012; Mikulincer and Shaver, 2001, 2007; Saleem, 2011).

We will run laboratory and neuroeconomic experiments on the effects of attachment system and status on redistributive decisions across groups. The experiments will consist of modified Dictator Games. Information of the group identity (ingroup-outgroup) and status (high-low) of the receiver will be given to the dictator. In addition, the participants will be primed with neutral and attachment-related information (e.g. words) before making the decisions. The same setup will be used in behavioural experiments as well as in neuroimaging experiment which will allow us to test whether the effects are mediated, for example, by differences in the activation of brain areas related to understanding the mental state of others (Abu-Akel and Shamay-Tsoory, 2011). If not falsified, the results could have several implications: first, that attachment-related words used and status given to groups in a culture might affect decisions about income redistribution between groups (Williams and Mohammed 2013); second, that attachment priming and reminders of the humanity of members of other groups could be a useful part of programs seeking to increase intergroup cooperation or prevent discrimination (Williams and Mohammed, 2013); and third, that policies affecting the development of attachment styles, such as early childhood programs (Bakermans-Kranenburg, et al., 2003) and poverty reduction (IJzendoorn and Bakermans-Kranenburg, 2010; Mickelson et al., 1997), could help support welfare states in the presence of a more heterogeneous citizenry.


Professor Spencer Bastani, Assistant Professor, Uppsala University, Email:

Professor HÃ¥kan Selin, Associate Professor, Uppsala University, Email:

Dr Jani-Petri Laamanen, Lecturer in Economics, University of Tampere,

Mr Esa Palosaari, PhD student, University of Tampere,

Ms Marja-Liisa Halko, Senior Researcher, Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland,


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