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Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 1997;1(4):323-45.

The psychology of legitimacy: a relational perspective on voluntary deference to authorities.

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Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley 94720-1650, USA.


People within organized groups often internalize their feelings of obligation to obey group rules and the decisions of group authorities. They believe that group authorities and rules are legitimate and, hence, entitled to be obeyed. Because of this belief, group members voluntarily accept and obey rules and decisions from group authorities. This review draws on evidence from studies of authorities in political, legal, managerial, educational, and family settings to explore why people view as legitimate and voluntarily defer to group authorities. Two theories about legitimacy are contrasted: resource-based theories, represented by instrumental models, and identification-based theories, represented by the relational model. The findings provide strong support for the existence of a relational component of legitimacy, suggesting that authorities draw an important part of their legitimacy from their social relationship with group members. The findings also show that there is an instrumental component to legitimacy. Hence, the psychology of legitimacy involves both instrumental and relational elements.

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