The Role of Anticipatory Relative Deprivation as a Barrier to Engagement in Social Justice Action

Open Access
Bloodhart, Brittany Paige
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 07, 2012
Committee Members:
  • Janet Swim, Dissertation Advisor
  • Stephanie A Shields, Committee Member
  • Nancy A Tuana, Committee Member
  • Jose Angel Soto, Committee Member
  • relative deprivation
  • social action
  • justice
  • privilege
An important psychological indicator of whether those with privilege are willing to engage in social action may be the relative amount of deprivation they anticipate feeling by relinquishing that privilege to others. Fear of future personal deprivation could lead to a denial of or refusal to ameliorate social issues. However, if individuals recognize an injustice, recognize that their privilege contributes to the injustice, and expand their scope of justice to those affected, they may not see the request to give up their privileges as a form of deprivation and, as a result, may be more likely to engage in positive social action. The aim of this dissertation work was to 1) explore Anticipatory Relative Deprivation (ARD) as a psychological barrier to willingness to reduce one’s own privilege, and 2) test whether ARD can be reduced, therefore increasing subsequent willingness to reduce one’s own privilege by engaging in social action. Specifically, people should no longer anticipate feeling relatively deprived and be motivated to engage in social action when they: 1) have expanded their scope of justice to others who are harmed (e.g., people who are impacted by climate change, animals, or the environment); 2) are aware that those within their scope of justice have been harmed; and 3) recognize that their privilege contributes to the harm. Results across three studies indicate that ARD is conversely related to willingness to support a variety of social justice issues, that feelings of anticipated deprivation are relative to those who we compare ourselves with, and that ARD can be reduced by expanding scope of justice and relative comparisons to those with less privilege than the self, increasing willingness to engage in social justice. In addition, the group to whom individuals compare themselves mattered: comparing oneself to animals was generally more likely to reduce ARD and increase willingness to engage in social action than comparing oneself to people in other countries and women in particular. These results may have been due to beliefs about innocence and culpability in a particular group's circumstances, or may have been impacted by sexist or racist attitudes. Implications for this research include practical considerations for intervention programming and promoting pro-social and pro-environmental change.