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“But I’m not privileged”: Privileged targets’ victimhood claims spill over to affect third parties’ perceptions of group inequity
Emerging work on the psychology of privilege has suggested that an individual’s defensive behaviors may contribute to societal invisibility of privilege, by shifting third-parties’ perceptions of its existence. We test this theory empirically, exploring third-parties’ perceptions of a common defense against privilege: victimhood claims. Across 3 studies (1 pre-registered), we use a stimulus-sampling approach to test the effects of a variety of claims. First, we find that when people view a privileged target’s victimhood claims as severe and relevant, they report more positive attitudes toward that target. Second, we find that privileged targets’ defensive victimhood claims can spill over to affect third-parties’ perceptions of intergroup conflict: positive attitudes towards the target in turn decreases observers’ belief that the target is privileged, increases their perceptions of meritocracy, and ultimately decreases their support for inequity-reducing policies. This shows how the “invisibility” of privilege can emerge through individual actions that spillover to others.