The psychology of corporate rights: Perception of corporate versus individual rights to religious liberty, privacy, and free speech

Avital Mentovich, Aziz Huq, Moran Cerf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The U.S. Supreme Court has increasingly expanded the scope of constitutional rights granted to corporations and other collective entities. Although this tendency receives widespread public and media attention, little empirical research examines how people ascribe rights, commonly thought to belong to natural persons, to corporations. This article explores this issue in 3 studies focusing on different rights (religious liberty, privacy, and free speech). We examined participants' willingness to grant a given right while manipulating the type of entity at stake (from small businesses, to larger corporations, to for-profit and nonprofit companies), and the identity of the right holder (from employees, to owners, to the company itself as a separate entity). We further examined the role of political ideology in perceptions of rights. Results indicated a significant decline in the degree of recognition of entities' rights (the company itself) in comparison to natural persons' rights (owners and employees). Results also demonstrated an effect of the type of entity at stake: Larger, for-profit businesses were less likely to be viewed as rights holders compared with nonprofit entities. Although both tendencies persisted across the ideological spectrum, ideological differences emerged in the relations between corporate and individual rights: these were positively related among conservatives but negatively related among liberals. Finally, we found that the desire to protect citizens (compared with businesses) underlies individuals' willingness to grant rights to companies. These findings show that people (rather than corporations) are more appropriate recipients of rights, and can explain public backlash to judicial expansions of corporate rights.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-210
Number of pages16
JournalLaw and Human Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 American Psychological Association.


  • Corporations
  • Political ideology
  • Rights

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • General Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Law


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