Psychological Entitlement Definition
Psychological entitlement refers to a general belief that one deserves more or is entitled to more than others are. Psychological entitlement is defined as a general belief because it is consistent over time and across different situations.
Context and Importance of Psychological Entitlement
The concepts of entitlement and deservingness play an important role in much of social life. They both reflect the commonly held idea that when individuals contribute to a situation, they should get something back in return. When individuals do not get what they feel they are entitled to or deserve, they consider the situation unjust or unfair, and may get upset or angry and seek redress.
Entitlement and deservingness are similar but have slightly different meanings. Entitlement usually refers to a reward that a person should receive as the result of a social contract. For example, a person would say that she is entitled to receive a pension because she worked at a job for a set number of years. In the United States, government programs like Social Security are actually called entitlement programs. Deservingness, in contrast, usually refers to a reward that a person should receive as a result of his or her efforts or character. For example, a person may say that he deserves a larger salary because he is such a hardworking employee and keeps such a positive attitude in the workplace.
Psychological entitlement encompasses the experience of both entitlement and deservingness across time and across situations. In this sense, psychological entitlement can be considered an individual difference variable. That is, it reflects a very general difference between persons in beliefs and behaviors: Some individuals have chronically high levels of psychological entitlement, others have moderate levels of psychological entitlement, and still others have low levels of psychological entitlement. Individuals who have high levels of psychological entitlement think that they deserve more than do others in most situations. For example, a student with a high level of psychological entitlement will think that she deserves an A in a class, even if it is clear to the professor and the other students that she does not. Furthermore, this same student will likely feel that she deserves A’s in all of her classes because psychological entitlement is a general trait and not limited to one specific situation. In contrast, another student with a low sense of psychological entitlement would not think that he deserved an A if he did not clearly earn it.
An individual’s level of psychological entitlement is typically measured with a self-report scale, the Psychological Entitlement Scale. This scale asks individuals to rate the extent that they agree with certain statements. These include “I deserve more things in my life,” “People like me deserve an extra break now and then,” and “I feel entitled to more of everything.” Individuals who have high levels of psychological entitlement are more likely to agree with these and similar statements.
Psychological entitlement has a wide range of important and often negative consequences for human thoughts, feelings, and behavior. In the workplace, for example, individuals who have high levels of psychological entitlement often believe that they should be paid more than are others in similar positions. This can potentially lead to conflict or divisiveness at work and leave the psychologically entitled person constantly dissatisfied. In romantic relationships, psychological entitlement is also related to many negative consequences. Individuals who have high levels of psychological entitlement report responding more negatively to conflict in the relationships, being less empathic, less respectful, and less willing to take their partners’ perspective. They also report being more selfish and more game-playing. Finally, individuals who have high levels of psychological entitlement are more prone to aggression. These individuals believe that they deserve special treatment, so they are particularly likely to be aggressive toward those who criticize them. In short, individuals who have high levels of psychological entitlement often feel shortchanged by others. This is linked to feelings of resentment or anger, selfish and self-centered behaviors, and even hostility and aggression.
Although psychological entitlement is usually linked with negative outcomes, it may also benefit individuals in some situations. For example, employees who have high levels of psychological entitlement may actually end up making more money at work simply because they ask for it. Likewise, students who think they deserve higher grades and demand them might in some cases actually receive higher grades. Of course, these benefits of psychological entitlement may be short-lived. Individuals who constantly demand more resources or better treatment than they truly deserve might well gain bad reputations and eventually be avoided by others.
Finally, psychological entitlement might also operate at the level of social groups. When there is conflict between groups, excessive levels of psychological entitlement by one group may be blamed. In the United States (and this certainly occurs in other countries), many social groups have been referred to as “entitled.” These include CEOs, celebrities, professional athletes, the young, the old, the poor, and the rich. In each of these cases, the label “entitled” applied to a social group implies that members of that group believe that society owes them special treatment. Furthermore, the implication is often that this special treatment is not deserved. For example, if a professional athlete is caught committing a crime, the comment is often made that it is typical of these entitled athletes to think that the rules that apply to everyone else do not apply to them.
- Campbell, W. K., Bonacci, A. M., Shelton, J., Exline, J. J., & Bushman, B. J. (2004). Psychological entitlement: Interpersonal consequences and validation of a new self-report measure. Journal of Personality Assessment, 83, 29-45.