Despite the growing economic inequality, there is no evidence of growing public demand for wealth redistribution. One proposed explanation for this paradox is the popular belief that inequality is the outcome of a fair process where societal success reflects talent and effort. Across countries, the popularity of these meritocratic beliefs bears no relationship to the actual social mobility and is associated with increased levels of within-country inequality. On the other hand, these beliefs negatively correlate with the extent of social spending and redistribution in each country. In light of this correlational evidence, this project employ an experimental approach to investigate the potential role of redistribution policies in the formation of biased meritocratic beliefs and the psychological mechanisms that underlie this process. Building on research in Psychology and Economics, I first examine whether the absence of redistribution incentivizes agents to become more tolerant of inequality. Drawing on the theory of cognitive dissonance, I then explore whether high inequality tolerance leads to endorsement of meritocratic beliefs. After establishing the role of redistribution on beliefs, I use functional neuroimaging to shed light on the neurocognitive mechanisms that underlie the formation of biased beliefs. Overall, this research tries to address a long-standing question about the psychological processes that lead to inequality tolerance and fits the EU priorities of a deeper and fairer economic Union. My strong background in Neuroscience, combined with my supervisor’s extensive expertise in Behavioral Economics and the excellent training environment at UM guarantee the success of this project. This project will critically contribute to my development as an independent researcher in the field of Neuroeconomics and Behavioral Economics and will allow me to forge a new collaborative research line at the MPE.
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