Social justice attitudes reflect the endorsement of social justice behavior ideals (e.g., it is important to respect and appreciate people’s diverse social identities), but do not necessarily reflect what is seen in the environment. Thus, similar to the just-world belief, the extent to which an individual believes in the importance of social justice behaviors may increase the distress associated with perceptions of injustices related to microaggressions in the environment, because it may trigger cognitive dissonance.
Objective: To determine if the relationship between environmental microaggressions (those not directly targeted at an individual) and mental distress is moderated by social justice attitudes.
Methods: An online cross-sectional survey was conducted among a convenience sample of LGBTQ2S+ identified university students in Canada.
Participants completed a 5-item LGBQ environmental microaggressions scale (α=0.783), a 9-item social justice attitudes scale (α=0.962), and the PHQ-4 (α=0.866), used as an indicator of mental distress. Using SPSS 25 PROCESS Macro version 3.3, moderation analysis was conducted, with mental distress as the outcome, microaggressions as the focal predictor, and social justice attitudes as the moderator. Controls included race, age, disability, and trans identity variables, as well as social desirability. The interaction was probed using the Johnson-Neyman technique.
Results: 366 students completed the survey (age M=22.47 years, SD=3.73). All but one participant identified as a sexual minority and 154 participants identified with a trans identity (e.g. non-binary, agender, genderqueer).
Moderation analysis revealed that the interaction between environmental microaggressions and social justice attitudes explained a significant amount of variance in mental distress, ΔR2 = 0.018, F(1, 204) = 4.76, p < .05. When social justice attitudes are high (> 5.9, on a 7-point scale) the positive relationship between LGBQ environmental microaggressions and mental distress was strengthened, this was the case for a large number of participants (M=5.95, SD=0.82).
Conclusions and Implications:
These results suggest that LGBQ university students who hold high social justice attitudes maybe more vulnerable to the negative impacts of environmental microaggressions than other students. Thus, resources and interventions that combat LGBQ microaggressions and their effects should be developed to support LGBQ student groups, particularly those attuned to social justice issues (e.g., activists) due to their increased vulnerability. Future research should explore the possibility that the relationship between social justice attitudes and mental distress is mediated by environmental microaggressions.