Tag Archives: Poverty

For the Love of Learning

For the love of learning!:-)
October 10th, 19:00 at J-Global, B2 Yaesuguchi Kaikan, 1-7-20 Yaesu, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, 〒103-0028

mathias sager-school-learning-psychology-philosophy-TEASER03.png

“We shouldn’t teach great lessons, we should teach a love of learning.” [- Inspired by B.F. Skinner]

Nothing Has Changed (Or the Courage to Cease to Insist)

Nothing has changed

Some time ago we did insist on getting privileges
based on the race inherited from our parents

Nothing has changed

Nowadays still we insist on getting privileges
based on the wealth inherited from our parents

Nothing has changed

If in the future we will insist on getting privileges
due to the thinking inherited from our parents

Nothing has changed

Only if today we ceased to insist on getting privileges
through the courage independent of our parents

Something has changed


The world produces enough food to feed the planet’s 7 billion-plus people, so why are so many going hungry?* It’s mainly because most hungry people don’t have the resources to grow or buy food.

*1 in 3 people suffer from some form of malnutrition, which means they lack sufficient vitamins and minerals in their diet, which can lead to health issues such as stunted growth in children. Each year, poor nutrition kills 3.1 million children under the age of 5. (http://www.latimes.com/world/la-fg-global-world-hunger-day-20170528-story.html)

Why People Justify Social Systems That Disadvantage Them


The paradox of the disadvantaged justifying authoritarian systems

It can seem paradoxical that people often justify the existing social system even when this comes at personal and collective costs [1]. System Justification Theory (SJT) provides a framework to understand what the motives and contexts behind this phenomenon are [2]. SJT posits that an underlying ideology is motivating the justification of social order in a way that contributes to the often-unconscious belief of inferiority most strongly among individuals of underprivileged groups [3]. It is not just passivity that gives way to the dominance of political elites [4]. Psychological and ideological processes related to resistance to change imply that albeit possible, change is often difficult [5]. Change is especially difficult if there is an ideological system in place that pronounces an authoritarian culture of inequality that, according to SJT, tends to reinforce itself as a ‘culture of justification’ [6]. The association of a nation with God further strengthens people’s confidence to justify the system [7].

Exposure to threat causes conservative shift

The political notion of discussion is persuasion [8] and SJT can be used to influence voters’ viewpoints. Studies found that people who were exposed to thoughts related to death became more supportive of conservative perspectives [9]. Exposure to threat, e.g. in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, indicated a possible shift towards increased approval rates for President George W. Bush [10]. Protests, from a socio-psychological perspective, are triggered by perceived injustice and related anger, social identification, and the faith in collective action. However, existential and relational needs for security can undermine these change antecedents [11]. Following this logic, employees, for example, show an enhanced tendency to deny flaws at their workplace especially in times of scarce labor markets [12].

System justification impedes critical consciousness

Although it is a myth that Western Societies are characterized by equality of opportunity, studies found that a majority’s belief in equality helps to justify a meritocratic ideology, i.e., that it is, given we all start with the same possibilities, fair that individual differences are rewarded. The motive to legitimize economic inequality is further blocking critical thinking capacities with severe consequences for the economic and psychological well-being of marginalized persons [13]. System threat defense mechanisms related to SJT, such as victim blaming, stereotyping, and inequality legitimization, can help reduce emotional anguish. However, the victims of a justified crisis often have to pay a high price for it [14]; a price that may be higher in the long-term than the price of protest to achieve positive change.

The role of psychologists in policymaking

It is essential to understand individuals’ view of the salience and scope of systems as they might be system justifiers of varying degrees related to different systems [1]. Also, one must be aware of how ideologies are advocated and reinforced, e.g., through political and societal structures. Psychologists should work in interdisciplinary teams together with policymakers to remove change-averse infrastructure and untrap citizens from the psychological barrier of system justification [15].

Should system justification be used by organizational leaders to evoke desirable behavior?

First, according to different missions of organizations (e.g., to generate profit, or to grow a movement, etc.), desirable behavior might differ too. Second, I think, even if the behavior of the employees is desirable, a responsible leader should be concerned about how this behavior is created. As system justification is a mostly unconscious and automatic psychological response to threat [1], it might not be the best basis to maintain desirable behavior sustainably. It may also be difficult to evaluate whether the lack of awareness is protective of the employees’ well-being or whether there are possible indirect taxes to consider. Rationalizing away inequalities to defense the status quo may seem to support fearful individuals [16]. However, being in control in one area may hinder progress in other areas. For example, studies found that women retaining power in their traditional household role prevented them from claiming more equality at the workplace [17]. Possibly not the best outcome for the women and the organization as workforce diversity may be useful for the innovation capacity of organizations in many cases [18]. As system justification works based on personal fear and lack of self-esteem, it is, for example, causing narcissistic personalities to justify hierarchy in the case they believe to benefit from it personally, i.e., having the chance to rise to the top [19]. I could often observe adverse outcomes related to selfish reasons and hidden agendas. Therefore, in summary, I would foster desirable behavior through increasing awareness and reward informed and transparent efforts towards desired outcomes.


[1] Ido, L. )., & Jost, J. ). (2011). Special issue: System justification theory motivated social cognition in the service of the status quo. Social Cognition, 29(3), 231-237. doi:10.1521/soco.2011.29.3.231

[2] Blasi, G., & Jost, J. T. (2006). System Justification Theory and Research: Implications for Law, Legal Advocacy, and Social Justice. California Law Review, 94(4), 1119-1168.

[3] Jost, John T., a., Mahzarin R. Banaji, a., & Brian A. Nosek, a. (2004). A Decade of System Justification Theory: Accumulated Evidence of Conscious and Unconscious Bolstering of the Status Quo. Political Psychology, (6), 881.

[4] Van der Toorn, J., & Jost, J. (2014). Twenty years of system justification theory: Introduction to the special issue on ?Ideology and system justification processes?. GROUP PROCESSES AND INTERGROUP RELATIONS, (4). 413.

[5] Stanley, M. L., Dougherty, A. M., Yang, B. W., Henne, P., & De Brigard, F. (2017). Reasons Probably Won’t Change Your Mind: The Role of Reasons in Revising Moral Decisions. Journal Of Experimental Psychology: General, doi:10.1037/xge0000368

[6] Mashele, R. (2015). Traditional Leadership and Democratic Governance: Using Leadership Theories to Calibrate Administrative Compatibility. Acta Universitatis Danubius: Administratio, Vol 7, Iss 2, Pp 27-36 (2015), (2), 27.

[7] Shepherd, S., Eibach, R. P., & Kay, A. C. (2017). ‘One Nation Under God’: The System-Justifying Function of Symbolically Aligning God and Government. Political Psychology, 38(5), 703-720. doi:10.1111/pops.12353

[8] Körösényi, A. (2005). Political Representation in Leader Democracy. Government & Opposition, 40(3), 358. doi:10.1111/j.1477-7053.2005.00155.x

[9] Zhu, L. )., Kay, A. )., & Eibach, R. ). (2013). A test of the flexible ideology hypothesis: System justification motives interact with ideological cueing to predict political judgments. Journal Of Experimental Social Psychology, 49(4), 755-758. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2013.03.007

[10] Sterling, J., Jost, J. T., & Shrout, P. E. (2016). Mortality Salience, System Justification, and Candidate Evaluations in the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election. Plos ONE, 11(3), 1-21. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0150556

[11] Jost, J. T., Becker, J., & Osborne, D. (2017). Missing in (Collective) Action: Ideology, System Justification, and the Motivational Antecedents of Two Types of Protest Behavior. Current Directions In Psychological Science, 26(2), 99-108. doi:10.1177/0963721417690633

[12] Proudfoot, D., Kay, A. C., & Mann, H. (2015). Motivated employee blindness: The impact of labor market instability on judgment of organizational inefficiencies. Organizational Behavior And Human Decision Processes, 130108-122. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2015.06.008

[13] Godfrey, E. B., & Wolf, S. (2015). Developing Critical Consciousness or Justifying the System? A Qualitative Analysis of Attributions for Poverty and Wealth Among Low-Income Racial/Ethnic Minority and Immigrant Women. Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology, 22(1), 93-103.

[14] Napier, J. L., Mandisodza, A. N., Andersen, S. M., & Jost, J. T. (2006). System Justification in Responding to the Poor and Displaced in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Analyses Of Social Issues & Public Policy, 6(1), 57-73. doi:10.1111/j.1530-2415.2006.00102.x

[15] Gifford, R. (2011). The Dragons of Inaction: Psychological Barriers That Limit Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation. American Psychologist, 66(4), 290-302.

[16] Schlenker, B. R., Chambers, J. R., & Le, B. M. (2012). Conservatives are happier than liberals, but why? Political ideology, personality, and life satisfaction. Journal Of Research In Personality, 46(2), 127-146. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2011.12.009

[17] Williams, M. J., & Chen, S. (2014). When “mom’s the boss”: Control over domestic decision making reduces women’s interest in workplace power. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 17(4), 436-452.

[18] Mamman, A., Kamoche, K., & Bakuwa, R. (2012). Diversity, organizational commitment and organizational citizenship behavior: An organizing framework. Human Resource Management Review, 22(4), 285-302.

[19] Zitek, E. M., & Jordan, A. H. (2016). Narcissism predicts support for hierarchy (at least when narcissists think they can rise to the top). Social Psychological And Personality Science, 7(7), 707-716. doi:10.1177/1948550616649241

Escaping (Psycho-)Logic Traps for Better Solutions

mathias-sager-pschologic trap escape 2

Summary. Social traps are situations in which individuals take rational (and often egoist) short-term decisions that, however, lead to negative collective results in the long-term. Some psycho-(logic) traps involve an isolating and limiting view on available behavioral choices. Because everyone needs to feel competent to take future action, the failure trap lets people deny their potential for further learning and engage in task-irrelevant actionism. The sunk cost fallacy is such an example in which, due to already made investments, there is a reluctance to change the unsuccessful course of behavior. Most social issues are not unfortunate events; they have to do with whether we base our solution design on observations rather than assumptions, and whether we accept our duty to act as if we trusted others, although there is always evidence for peoples untrustworthiness. Rather than limiting our fight for survival on individual competition, we can act as institutional entrepreneurs, guiding groups, and societies towards a better future.

Continue reading Escaping (Psycho-)Logic Traps for Better Solutions

A Reply to the Article “Obedience” (ashiftinconsciousness.wordpress.com)

A Reply to the Article “Obedience” (ashiftinconsciousness.wordpress.com). PLEASE VISIT.



Impressive (depressing) figures. Thanks for sharing as this is of uttermost importance.

I’m practicing here for drafting letters to Gates and co.

Why do these rich/powerful not change the world for the better? Because they just habitually might not change their convictions that made them multi-billionaires? Because they don’t see the chain of causes leading to inequality?

Regarding Bill Gates, for example, of course, one can argue that the development of the Personal Computer did a lot of great things for some people (not the majority of the world population though). I believe, however, that likely somebody else in a similar environment would have come up with a similar advancement. We probably wouldn’t have missed out on computers without Bill Gates. And although Gates and Buffet are from an absolute number perspective praised to be the most generous donators to (their own) foundations, they obviously care before anything else to remain the richest people in the world. Is that really so adorable? They don’t change the game; they only fight some symptoms of the sick system they are profiting from. And maybe they fight also their guilty conscience and feel good about being applauded to be generous?

The rich and powerful who still could buy and influence everything with only a fraction of their current fortune could invest into social impact businesses, empower awareness and education, and enable cooperative governance models to foster democracy and equality to eradicate hunger. There are obvious (or not for them?) ways to let benefit more people from the earthly resources that are extracted primarily for the enrichment of very few. Even if the money is not inherited and if one justifies his/her wealth compared to others’ poverty with a superiority in smartness or industriousness, does that justify amassing, holding back money that could help children from dying of hunger? How hypocritical is it to revel in grief about natural disasters or accidents, while forgetting systematically human-made, constant, and long-term poverty that is the cause for more than 20,000 children dying every single day?!

Even when they have lived their life and could survive with a couple of billion dollars, why do they still not change for making an systematic positive impact? Whose slaves are they? Slaves of their fear? Fear of not being obedient to the capitalist system? They ARE the system of capital as they control a significant part of it. Fear of themselves? Fear of looking into the mirror?! I already hear the reasoning that I don’t have the right to speak that way as I also enjoy privileges. This is not entirely accurate, because when all the volunteering and level of modesty (avoidance of unnecessary luxury/waste) put into proportional perspective, it is definitively in better support of a sustainable world. And let’s not forget the impact of promoting systematic change for all (e.g., by fostering democratically, cooperatively (instead of capitalistically) owned companies), instead of one’s own elitist circles only.

These are the strikingly game-changing questions I’d like to ask them and other fearful obedient directly. Let’s help our children to become courageous and strong leaders, happy in modesty but ambitious in their positive social impact for all. 

Letter home: From a world citizen who doesn’t feel any worse

#008 Culture Lake II (Mathias Sager, water mixable oil colour on canvas board, 41.1×31.8×0.4 cm (16.2″x12.5″x0.16″))

Thank you very much for your rich and engaging letter. I would also like to stress that I love you, unconditionally.

Please take care and follow your heart, no matter what others are saying. Even if criticism between people can lead to counter criticism, I believe that “the world” in the actual/wider sense is waiting for each of us equally. I want no one to think she/he is less valuable than anyone else because there is absolutely no reason for that.

Continue reading Letter home: From a world citizen who doesn’t feel any worse

Need for foodstuff or mental food?

#69 Queasy feeling (Mathias Sager, Oil color water mixable on wood panel, M20 727X500)
#69 Queasy feeling (Mathias Sager, Oil color water mixable on wood panel, M20 727X500)

Is it because we are suffering unmet basic needs, or is it because we lack self-esteem?

Continue reading Need for foodstuff or mental food?

Yes, we can.


We can fly to the moon since 1969. We can also spend every 8 days 30 billion dollars for military, what would be enough to eradicate world hunger for a year. And we can count every four seconds a person who dies of hunger or hunger-related causes. – Mathias Sager

Continue reading Yes, we can.