Ideology of the Good Old Days: Exaggerated Perceptions of Moral Decline and Conservative Politics
Beliefs in social and moral decline are widespread, and people sometimes perceive decline when conditions are actually improving. The original research presented here seeks to explain such illusory perceptions of decline by linking them to a general judgmental bias that causes people to mistake change in the self for change in the external world. Many changes that people experience during the life-course alter their perspectives in ways that sensitize them to social threats. When people fail to realize that these personal changes have heightened their perceptions of threat, they may mistakenly conclude that threats are becoming more prevalent in society. This chapter tests this thesis by combining surveys of people actually undergoing relevant transitions with experimental analogues of these transition processes. Also reviewed is evidence linking the belief that conditions are declining to politically conservative attitudes. After examining the judgmental biases that produce illusory perceptions of decline, the chapter draws on broader models of ideology and system justification to explain how the rhetoric of decline may function to achieve wider public support for conservative social movements.
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