Are Progressives in Denial About Progress? Yes, but So Is Almost Everyone Else
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.