My research lends insight to how people think about justice, social hierarchies, and socio-political attitudes.
Preprints, materials and data are available at the link above.
My most recent CV is available at the link below.
My research explores people’s sense of right and wrong. My findings reveal that morality, rather than being objective and decontextualized, arises from subjective motives related to social hierarchies (positions of power and status). Put simply, when people answer the question, “What is right?” they ask themselves, “Who should dominate?” Accordingly, I find that people’s orientations toward hierarchies guide: (1) how they judge the (im)morality of discrimination and (2) their support for retributive responses to crime.
The (im)morality of discrimination
Discrimination, whether in the workplace, schools, or interpersonal interactions, enhances hierarchies by maintaining disadvantage for low-status groups (e.g., racial minorities) and advantage for high-status ones. This is a state of affairs that many people find morally unacceptable. But racial discrimination can stem from implicit bias: attitudes and stereotypes that are outside conscious awareness and control. In these cases, to what extent are discriminators held morally responsible, and why? My research shows that when people judge the moral responsibility of someone who discriminated because of implicit bias, they do so based on whether they think he had a moral obligation to be aware of his prejudice (Redford & Ratliff, 2015). And, because discrimination enhances hierarchies, people motivated to maintain intergroup dominance are more lenient in their judgments of a discriminator’s moral obligations (Redford & Ratliff, 2016). These findings speak to the complexity of justice in a society where the legal system both privileges intent and decries discrimination.
Retribution as hierarchy regulation
More broadly, my work reveals how hierarchy-related motives are central to how people think about the purpose of punishment. My research shows that people who prefer societies to be structured hierarchically (i.e., such that some groups of people have much more power and status than others) more strongly prefer that punishment take the form of retribution (payback) instead of deterrence (preventing future crime), especially when the offender is of low socioeconomic status. However, people who prefer societies to be structured in a more equal, egalitarian fashion are more retributive toward high-status offenders (Redford & Ratliff, 2017). My theory of retribution as hierarchy regulation also draws support from my research on psychological entitlement: pervasive and excessive feelings of specialness and deservingness. I find that entitlement prompts people to prioritize power and achievement as important life-guiding principles. Like hierarchy motives at the societal level, these personal values in turn predict greater support of retributive punishment (Redford & Ratliff, 2017b).
My second area of research explores socio-political attitudes, including how those attitudes contribute to identities and behaviors that support social justice.
Given a chance to donate to a charity, would you choose a feminist organization? My work shows that even if you already recognize women’s disadvantages, your decision might further be shaped by your thoughts about feminists, and your identity as “a feminist” or “not a feminist”. If you identify as a feminist, you are willing to take on the label “feminist”, join the social group “feminists”, and accept that you will be judged by the attributes – good or bad – that are associated with that group.
In my research, I use the perceived goodness and badness of those attributes—attitudes—toward groups to predict people’s identities and relevant behaviors. This work reveals how identities and perceptions of group are embedded in, and have implications for, social change addressing group-based disadvantage. Specifically, in ongoing research on prototype attitudes and behavior, I study people’s attitudes toward feminist prototypes: the type of person they most readily imagine when thinking of feminists as a group. These prototype attitudes predict how willing people are to take on a feminist identity as well as how willing they are to engage in feminist behavior such as donating to a feminist charity, even controlling for gender equality beliefs (Redford, Howell, Meijs, & Ratliff, 2016). Subsequently, my colleagues and I have shown that feminist prototypes and subsequent identity predict how willing women are to confront sexism they experience in everyday contexts, a relationship that is strongest among those who perceive themselves to be personally vulnerable to sexism (Weis, Redford, Ratliff, & Zucker, 2017). Because confrontations of prejudice promote social change, these findings suggest that these confrontations could be one way feminist identity translates to a more gender-egalitarian world. My colleagues and I have also investigated strategies for reducing implicit racial preferences (Lai, … Redford, … & Nosek, 2016), defensive responses to information about implicit attitudes (Howell, Redford, Pogge, & Ratliff, 2017), and sexism in voting preferences for Trump versus Clinton (Ratliff, Redford, Conway, & Smith, 2017).