An Introduction to Social Dominance Orientation

By: Ian P. Smith

Social Dominance Theory is a social psychological theory based on the idea that “all human societies tend to be structured as systems of group-based hierarchies” consisting at the minimum of “one or a small number of dominant and hegemonic groups at the top and one or a number of subordinate groups at the bottom” (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999, p. 31). A part of this theory is the aspect of social dominance orientation (SDO). SDO is a personality trait measuring the support that an individual gives to the dominance of certain groups over other groups based on factors such as race, sex, nationality, religion, etc. (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999, p. 61). Essentially, SDO is a measure of the preference one has for inequality when that inequality leads to one’s group dominating over another’s. For this blog entry I will review recent literature on the subject of social dominance orientation in order to better understand the current thinking on the subject.

 In their 1994 study, Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, and Betram looked at how SDO related to social and political beliefs that support this group-based thinking (Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994). In this study, Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, and Betram had 1,952 college students fill out questionnaires to assess the participants’ levels of SDO and compare that to other identifying factors such as age, sex, and demographic background. They found that men tended to have higher SDO than woman, and, perhaps most importantly, SDO scores could be used to predict social and political attitudes. In relation to the social and political attitudes aspect, the researchers found that higher SDO was associated with pursuit of hierarchy-enhancing jobs, ideologies involving group prejudices, support for chauvinistic and law and order policies as well as military programs, and political-economic conservatism. 

More recently, researchers have found that SDO and political group identities can be used to predict attitudes toward a variety of different groups. In his 1999 study, Heaven found that SDO was a strong predictor of negative attitudes towards women’s rights (even stronger than political group identities) (Heaven, 1999). Bassett found in his 2010 study that higher SDO was associated with stronger negative attitudes towards illegal immigrants (Bassett, 2010), and in their 2000 study Whitley and Ægisdόttir found that SDO could be used to predict attitudes towards gays and lesbians (Whitley & Ægisdόttir, 2000). In regards to social position, Sanders and Mahalingam found a Class x Race interaction with upper-class, non-whites having the highest levels of SDO (Sanders & Mahalingam, 2012). But how does understanding SDO help us?

By understanding SDO, we are better able to understand the different processes involved in social interactions and group identities, and even how social influences can have an impact on our attitudes (Poteat, Espelage, & Green, 2007). Research like this can be used to combat these negative stereotypes by understanding the best manner in which to counter these negative attitudes (Danso, Sedlovskaya, & Suanda, 2007), the result of which could be very positive for those groups being dominated.

Works Cited

Bassett, J. F. (2010). The Effects ofMortality Salience and Social Dominance Orientation on Attitudes Toward Illegal Immigrants. Social Psychology 41(1), 52-55.

Danso, H. A., Sedlovskaya, A., & Suanda, S. H. (2007). Perceptions of Immigrants: Modifying the Attitudes of Individuals Higher in Social Dominance Orientation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 1113-1123.

Heaven, P. C. (1999). Attitudes Toward Women’s Rights: Relationships with Social Dominance Orientation and Political Group Indentities. Sex Roles 41(718), 605-614.

Poteat, V. P., Espelage, D. L., & Green, H. D. (2007). The Socialization of Dominance: Peer Group Contextual Effects on Homophobic and Dominance Attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 92(6), 1040-1050.

Pratto, F., Sidanius, J., Stallworth, L. M., & Malle, B. F. (1994). Social dominance orientation: A personality variable predicting social and political attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 67(4), 741-763.

Sanders, M. R., & Mahalingam, R. (2012). Social Dominance Orientation and John Henryism at the Intersection of Race and Class. Political Psychology 33(4), 553-573.

Sidanius, J., & Pratto, F. (1999). Social Dominance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Whitley, B. E., & Ægisdόttir, S. (2000). The Gender Belief System, Authoritarianism, Social Dominance Orientation, and Heterosexuals’ Attitudes Toward Lesbians and Gay Men. Sex Roles 42(11/12), 947-967.

1 thought on “An Introduction to Social Dominance Orientation

  1. brian f. redmond

    Great entry Ian. This is the type of quality that we want to put forth. At some point I’d like to see a follow up with the behavioral asymmetry aspect of the theory. Also, I think I forgot to mention this the other day, feel free to ask questions if you get stuck on anything technical or theory-wise.

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