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Motivated Meritocracy: How the Advantaged Mobilize and Conceal Their Advantages
Keywords: meritocracy, justice, privilege, inequity, inequality
Abstract: Here, we suggest the experience of unfair advantage pits two critical motives: the merit motive and the maintenance motive. Together, these motives lead people to mobilize their advantage in order to secure desired outcomes, but to conceal these advantages under the cloak of merit as they do so. Further, we theorize that meritocracy may inspire not only merit motives, but also outcome security concerns that underlie maintenance motives. Meritocracy drives people to desire personal evidence of merit, because it links effort and talent to self-regard. But it may also drive people to desire maintenance of privilege, in part because meritocracy is a system that allows for failure. Systems based on merit might suggest that deprivation is a real possibility, and that individuals must rely on themselves to secure outcomes. In turn, this may lead to behaviors that ultimately subvert the equity principle. We provide experimental evidence supporting our theory.