A renowned psychologist visiting the country is set to delve into one of society's biggest mysteries: why most of us put up with social inequality.

In many industrialised nations the rich have grown richer while the middle and working classes have seen their economic situation stagnate or decline.

In the first a trio of public lectures at Auckland University, Professor John T Jost of New York University will on Monday evening discuss how what's called "system justification theory" helps explain why we tolerate and even justify unfairness.

Drawing on more than 20 years' cutting-edge research in social, personality and political psychology, Jost will also discuss why some political and religious ideologies are more likely to tolerate and justify inequality, and deny or minimise problems associated with it.


"One of the biggest puzzles in social psychology at the moment is understanding why people often support the status quo even where it conflicts with their own self-interest," said Dr Danny Osborne, of the university's School of Psychology.

"We are delighted that Professor Jost, who is an international leader in research that attempts to understand this paradox, is coming to New Zealand for these lectures."

In the second lecture, on Tuesday evening, Jost and Victoria University's Associate Professor Marc Wilson will look at how belief systems influence and shape political outcomes.

They will highlight the psychology of political and religious ideologies and how belief systems meet people's needs by reducing uncertainty, managing fears associated with death and allowing us to align ourselves with others.

In the final lecture, on Wednesday evening, Osborne and Jost will explain some of the factors that undermine support for collective action that could bring about real social change.

• The three talks, part of the Vice-Chancellor's Lecture Series, will be held at the university's Owen G Glenn Building at 12 Grafton Rd from 5pm-6pm on Monday and 6pm-7pm on Tuesday and Wednesday.