Are Progressives in Denial about Progress? Yes, but so Is Almost Everyone Else

62 Pages Posted: 3 Jan 2023 Last revised: 6 Jan 2023

See all articles by Gregory Mitchell

Gregory Mitchell

University of Virginia School of Law

Philip Tetlock

University of Pennsylvania

Date Written: December 22, 2022

Abstract

Scott Lilienfeld warned that psychology’s ideological uniformity would lead to premature closure on sensitive topics. He encouraged psychologists to question politically convenient results and did so himself in numerous areas. We follow Lilienfeld’s example and examine the empirical foundation beneath claims that positive illusions about societal change sustain inequalities by inducing apathy and opposition to reform. Drawing on data from a large-scale survey, we find almost the opposite: a pervasive tendency, across ideological and demographic categories, to see things as getting worse than they really are. These results cast doubt on functionalist claims that people mobilize beliefs about societal trends to support political positions and suggest a simpler explanation: most laypeople do not organize information in ways that provide reliable monitoring of social change over time, which makes their views on progress susceptible to memory distortions and high-profile current events and political rhetoric.

Keywords: progress denial, progress myth, political ideology, system justification, nostalgic fallacy

Suggested Citation

Mitchell, Gregory and Tetlock, Philip, Are Progressives in Denial about Progress? Yes, but so Is Almost Everyone Else (December 22, 2022). Clinical Psychological Science 2022, Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2023-01, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4309801

Gregory Mitchell (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States
434-243-4088 (Phone)

Philip Tetlock

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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