Denying the Value of Goals to the Disadvantaged

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Pursuing valued goals is a fundamental aspect of human behavior. In this dissertation, I explore the tendency of observers to underestimate the extent to which members of disadvantaged groups value their goals. Nine studies (N = 3,851) find evidence of a goal-value bias, such that people perceive goals across a variety of domains as more valuable to high-socioeconomic status (SES) individuals than to low-SES individuals (Studies 1 – 7), that these perceptions do not accurately reflect reality (Pilot and Study 3), and that those who are strongly motivated to justify inequality show the bias to a greater extent (Studies 1, 2a, 2b, and 7). In addition to motivated processes, I also test the extent to which these effects result from an inference error, such that people rely too heavily on an outcome-value association when judging value. Weakening the association between outcomes and goal value by considering additional factors that affect outcomes (e.g., time/effort, obstacles) reduces the bias (Studies 4, 6, and 7). Finally, I explore downstream implications of the bias, finding that people give greater support to high-SES individuals than to low-SES individuals, a discriminatory outcome that is partially driven by perceived goal value (Studies 5, 6, and 7). Across nine studies, I show that people expect higher-SES individuals to value achieving goals more than their lower-SES counterparts, and that this bias can lead people to support those who are already ahead.





Wingrove, Sara Clark (2022). Denying the Value of Goals to the Disadvantaged. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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