Social dominance orientation

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Social dominance orientation (SDO)[1] is a personality trait which predicts social and political attitudes, and is a widely used social psychological scale. SDO is conceptualised as a measure of individual differences in levels of group-based discrimination; that is, it is a measure of an individual's preference for hierarchy within any social system and the domination over lower-status groups. It is a predisposition toward anti-egalitarianism within and between groups. The concept of SDO as a measurable individual difference is a product of social dominance theory.

Individuals who score high in SDO desire to maintain and, in many cases, increase the differences between social statuses of different groups, as well as individual group members. Typically, they are dominant, driven, tough, and relatively uncaring seekers of power. People high in SDO also prefer hierarchical group orientations. Often, people who score high in SDO adhere strongly to belief in a "dog-eat-dog" world.[2] It has also been found that men are generally higher than women in SDO measures.[3]

Social dominance theory

SDO was first proposed by Jim Sidanius and Felicia Pratto as part of their Social Dominance Theory (SDT). SDO is the key measurable component of SDT that is specific to it.

SDT begins with the empirical observation that surplus-producing social systems have a threefold group-based hierarchy structure: age-based, gender-based and “arbitrary set-based,” which can include race, class, sexual orientation, caste, ethnicity, religious affiliation, etc. Age-based hierarchies invariably give more power to adults and middle-age people than children and younger adults, and gender-based hierarchies invariably grant more power to one gender over others, but arbitrary-set hierarchies—though quite resilient—are truly arbitrary.

SDT is based on three primary assumptions:[citation needed]

  1. While age- and gender-based hierarchies will tend to exist within all social systems, arbitrary-set systems of social hierarchy will invariably emerge within social systems producing sustainable economic surpluses.
  2. Most forms of group conflict and oppression (e.g., racism, homophobia, ethnocentrisim, sexism, classism, regionalism) can be regarded as different manifestations of the same basic human predisposition to form group-based hierarchies.
  3. Human social systems are subject to the counterbalancing influences of hierarchy-enhancing (HE) forces, producing and maintaining ever higher levels of group-based social inequality, and hierarchy-attenuating (HA) forces, producing greater levels of group-based social equality.

SDO is the individual attitudinal aspect of SDT. It is influenced by group status, socialization, and temperament. In turn, it influences support for HE and HA "legitimating myths," defined as “values, attitudes, beliefs, causal attributions and ideologies” that in turn justify social institutions and practices that either enhance or attenuate group hierarchy.

Early development of SDO

While the correlation of gender with SDO scores has been empirically measured and confirmed,[4] the impact of temperament and socialization is less clear. Duckitt has suggested a model of attitude development for SDO, suggesting that unaffectionate socialisation in childhood causes a tough-minded attitude. According to Duckitt's model, people high in tough-minded personality are predisposed to view the world as a competitive place in which resource competition is zero-sum. A desire to compete, which fits with social dominance orientation, influences in-group and outside-group attitudes. People high in SDO also believe that hierarchies are present in all aspects of society and are more likely to agree with statements such as "It's probably a good thing that certain groups are at the top and other groups are at the bottom". In turn, SDO predicts stereotyping, discrimination and prejudice.[citation needed]

SDO Scale

SDO has been measured by a series of scales that have been refined over time, all of which contain a balance of pro- and contra-trait statements or phrases. A 7-point Likert scale is used for each item; participants rate their agreement or disagreement with the statements from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Most of the research was conducted with the SDO-5 (a 14-point scale) and SDO-6.

SDO-6 questions[1]

  1. Some groups of people are simply inferior to other groups.
  2. In getting what you want, it is sometimes necessary to use force against other groups.
  3. It’s OK if some groups have more of a chance in life than others.
  4. To get ahead in life, it is sometimes necessary to step on other groups.
  5. If certain groups stayed in their place, we would have fewer problems.
  6. It’s probably a good thing that certain groups are at the top and other groups are at the bottom.
  7. Inferior groups should stay in their place.
  8. Sometimes other groups must be kept in their place.
  9. It would be good if groups could be equal.
  10. Group equality should be our ideal.
  11. All groups should be given an equal chance in life.
  12. We should do what we can to equalize conditions for different groups.
  13. Increased social equality is beneficial to society.
  14. We would have fewer problems if we treated people more equally.
  15. We should strive to make incomes as equal as possible.
  16. No group should dominate in society.

Keying is reversed on questions 9 through 16, to control for acquiescence bias.

Criticisms of the Social Dominance Orientation Construct

Rubin and Hewstone (2004)[5] argue that social dominance theory has changed its focus dramatically over the years, and these changes have been reflected in different versions of the social dominance orientation construct. Social dominance orientation was originally defined as “the degree to which individuals desire social dominance and superiority for themselves and their primordial groups over other groups” (p. 209).[6] It then quickly changed to not only “(a) a…desire for and value given to in-group dominance over out-groups” but also “(b) the desire for nonegalitarian, hierarchical relationships between groups within the social system” (p. 1007).[7] The most recent measure of social dominance orientation (see SDO-6 above) focuses on the “general desire for unequal relations among social groups, regardless of whether this means ingroup domination or ingroup subordination” (p. 312).[1] Given these changes, Rubin and Hewstone believe that evidence for social dominance theory should be considered “as supporting three separate SDO hypotheses, rather than one single theory” (p. 22).[5]

Group-based and individual dominance

Robert Altemeyer said that people with a high SDO want more power (agreeing with items such as "Winning is more important than how you play the game") and more Machiavellian (manipulative and amoral) agreeing with items such as "There really is no such thing as 'right and wrong'. It all boils down to what you can get away with."[8]

These observations are at odds with conceptualisations of SDO as a group-based phenomenon, suggesting that the SDO reflects interpersonal dominance, not only group-based dominance. This is supported by Sidanius and Pratto's own evidence that high-SDO individuals tend to gravitate toward hierarchy-enhancing jobs and institutions, such as law enforcement, that are themselves hierarchically structured vis-a-vis individuals within them.

Relations with other personality traits

Connection with right wing authoritarianism

SDO correlates weakly with right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) (r ≈ .18).[9] Both predict attitudes, such as sexist, racist, and heterosexist attitudes.[10] The two contribute to different forms of prejudice; SDO correlates to higher prejudice against subordinate and disadvantaged groups, RWA correlates to higher prejudice against threatening groups, while both are associated with increases in prejudice for "dissident" groups.[11][12][13] SDO and RWA contribute to prejudice in an additive rather than interactive way (the interaction[clarification needed] of SDO and RWA accounted, in one study, for an average of less than .001% variance in addition to their linear combination), that is the association between SDO and prejudice is similar regardless of a person's level of RWA, and vice versa.[10] Crawford et al. (2013) found that RWA and SDO differentially predicted interpretations of media reports about socially threatening (for example, gays and lesbians) and disadvantaged groups (for example, African Americans), respectively. Subjects with high SDO, but not RWA, scores reacted positively to articles and authors that opposed affirmative action, and negatively to pro-affirmative-action article content. Moreover, RWA, but not SDO, predicted subjects' evaluations of same-sex relationships, such that high-RWA individuals favored anti-same-sex relationships article content and low-RWA individuals favorably rated pro-same-sex relationships content.[11]

Correlation with Big Five personality traits

Studies on the relationship of SDO with the higher order Big Five personality traits have associated high SDO with lower with openness to experience and lower agreeableness.[14] Meta-analytic aggregation of these studies indicates that the association with low Agreeableness is more robust than the link to Openness to experience. [15] Individuals low in Agreeableness are more inclined to be report being motivated by self-interest and self-indulgence. [16] They also tend to be more self-centred and are more ’tough-minded’ compared to those who are high on Agreeableness, leading them to perceive the world to be a highly-competitive place, where the way to success is through power and dominance – all of which predict SDO.[17]

Low Openness, by contrast, aligns more strongly with RWA; thinking in clear and straightforward moral codes that dictate how society as a system should function. Being low in Openness prompts the individual to value security, stability and control: fundamental elements of RWA.[17]

Facet-level associations

In case of SDO all five facets of Agreeableness significantly correlate (negatively), even after controlling for RWA.[15] 'Tough-mindedness’ (opposite of tender-mindedness’ facet) is the strongest predictor of SDO. After the effect of SDO is controlled for only one facet of agreeableness is predictive of RWA.[citation needed] Facets also distinguish SDO from RWA, with ’Dominators’ (individuals high on SDO), but not ’authoritarians’ (individuals who score high on RWA), having been found to be lower in dutifulness, morality, sympathy and co-operation.[18] RWA is also associated with religiosity, conservativism, righteousness, and, to some extent, a conscientious moral code, which distinguishes RWA from SDO.

Empathy and SDO

SDO is inversely related to empathy. Facets of Agreeableness that are linked to altruism, sympathy and compassion are the strongest predictors of SDO.[9] SDO has been suggested to have a link with callous affect (which is to be found on the psychopathy sub-scale), the 'polar opposite' of empathy.[19]

The relationship between SDO and (lack of) empathy has been found to be reciprocal [20]– with equivocal findings. Some studies show that empathy significantly impacts SDO,[21] whereas other research suggest the opposite effect is more robust; that SDO predicts empathy.[20] The latter showcases how powerful of a predictor SDO may be, not only effecting individual’s certain behaviours, but potentially influencing upstream the proneness to those behaviours. It also suggests, that those scoring high on SDO proactively avoid scenarios that could prompt them to be more empathetic or tender-minded. This avoidance decreases concern for other’s welfare.[20]

Empathy indirectly affects generalized prejudice through its negative relationship with SDO.[21] It also has a direct effect on generalized prejudice, as lack of empathy makes one unable to put oneself in the other person’s shoes, which predicts prejudice and antidemocratic views.

Correlation with conservative political views

Felicia Pratto and her colleagues have found evidence that a high Social Dominance Orientation is strongly correlated with conservative political views, and opposition to programs and policies that aim to promote equality (such as affirmative action, laws advocating equal rights for homosexuals, women in combat, etc.).[9]

There has been some debate within the psychology community on what the relation is between SDO and racism/sexism. One explanation suggests that opposition to programs that promote equality need not be based on racism or sexism but on a "principled conservatism",[22] that is, a "concern for equity, color-blindness, and genuine conservative values".

Some principled-conservatism theorists have suggested that racism and conservatism are independent, and only very weakly correlated among the highly educated, who truly understand the concepts of conservative values and attitudes. In an effort to examine the relationship between education, SDO, and racism, Sidanius and his colleagues[22] asked approximately 4,600 Euro-Americans to complete a survey in which they were asked about their political and social attitudes, and their social dominance orientation was assessed. Results partially supported the principled-conservatism position, but also suggest several problems. Contrary to what these theorists would predict, correlations among SDO, political conservatism, and racism were strongest among the most educated, and weakest among the least educated. Sidanius and his colleagues hypothesized[22] this was because the most educated conservatives tend to be more invested in the hierarchical structure of society and in maintaining the inequality of the status quo in society in order to safeguard their status.


SDO is typically measured as an individual personality construct. However, cultural forms of SDO have been discovered on the macro level of society.[23] Discrimination, prejudice and stereotyping can occur at various levels of institutions in society, such as transnational corporations, government agencies, schools and criminal justice systems. The basis of this theory of societal level SDO is rooted in evolutionary psychology, which states that humans have an evolved predisposition to express social dominance that is heightened under certain social conditions (such as group status) and is also mediated by factors such as individual personality and temperament. Democratic societies are lower in SDO measures[23] The more that a society encourages citizens to cooperate with others and feel concern for the welfare of others, the lower the SDO in that culture. High levels of national income and empowerment of women are also associated with low national SDO, whereas more traditional societies with lower income, male domination and more closed institutional systems are associated with a higher SDO. Individuals who are socialized within these traditional societies are more likely to internalize gender hierarchies and are less likely to challenge them.

Biology and sexual differences in SDO

The biology of SDO is unknown.[citation needed]

Plenty of evidence suggests that men tend to score higher on SDO than women, and this is true across different countries, cultures, age-groups, classes, religions and educational levels.[7] Researchers argue for an ’invarinance’ in the difference between men and women’s SDO; suggesting that even if all other factors were to be controlled for, the difference between men and women’s SDO would still remain – this however in some cases is disproved.[24]

From an evolutionary and biological perspective SDO facilitates men to be successful in their reproductive strategy through achieving social power and control over other males and becoming desired mating partners for the opposite sex.[25]

Males are observed to be more socially hierarchical, as indicated by speaking time,[26] and yielding to interruptions.[27]

Noting that males tend to have higher SDO scores than females, Sidanius and Pratto speculate that SDO may be influenced by hormones that differ between the sexes, namely androgens, primarily testosterone. Male levels of testosterone are much higher than that of females.

Taking a socio-cultural perspective, it is argued that the gap between women and men in SDO is dependent upon societal norms prescribing different expectations for gender roles of men and women.[28] Men are expected to be dominant and assertive, whereas women are supposed to be submissive and tender.

Differences between male and female attributional cognitive complexity is suggested contribute to the gender ’gap’ in SDO.[29] Women have been found to be more attributionally complex compared to men; they use more contextual information and evaluate social information more precisely. It is proposed that lower social status prompts higher cognitive complexity in order to compensate for the lack of control in that social situation by processing it more attentively and evaluating it more in depth. The difference in cognitive complexity between high and low status individuals could contribute to the differences between male and female SDO.[29]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Sidanius, Jim; Pratto, Felicia (2001). Social Dominance: An Intergroup Theory of Social Hierarchy and Oppression. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-80540-6. [page needed] Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Sidanius2001" defined multiple times with different content
  2. Levin, S.; Federico, C. M.; Sidanius, J.; Rabinowitz, J. L. (2002). "Social Dominance Orientation and Intergroup Bias: The Legitimation of Favoritism for High-Status Groups". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 28 (2): 144–57. doi:10.1177/0146167202282002. 
  3. Forsyth, D.R. (2009). Ground Dynamics: New York: Wadsworth [Chapter 7][page needed]
  4. Pratto, Felicia; Stallworth, Lisa M.; Sidanius, Jim (1997). "The gender gap: Differences in political attitudes and social dominance orientation". British Journal of Social Psychology. 36: 49–68. PMID 9114484. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8309.1997.tb01118.x. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Rubin, Mark; Hewstone, Miles (2004). "Social Identity, System Justification, and Social Dominance: Commentary on Reicher, Jost et al., and Sidanius et al". Political Psychology. 25 (6): 823–44. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9221.2004.00400.x. 
  6. Sidanius, James (1993). "The psychology of group conflict and the dynamics of oppression: A social dominance perspective". In Iyengar, Shanto; McGuire, William James. Explorations in political psychology. Duke studies in political psychology. Duke University Press. pp. 183–219. ISBN 978-0-8223-1324-3. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Sidanius, Jim; Pratto, Felicia; Bobo, Lawrence (1994). "Social dominance orientation and the political psychology of gender: A case of invariance?". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 67 (6): 998–1011. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.67.6.998. 
  8. Altemeyer, Robert (2006). "The Authoritarians" (PDF). p. 166. Retrieved 9 July 2013. [page needed]
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Pratto, Felicia; Sidanius, Jim; Stallworth, Lisa M.; Malle, Bertram F. (1994). "Social dominance orientation: A personality variable predicting social and political attitudes". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 67 (4): 741–63. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.67.4.741. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Sibley, Chris G.; Robertson, Andrew; Wilson, Marc S. (2006). "Social Dominance Orientation and Right-Wing Authoritarianism: Additive and Interactive Effects". Political Psychology. 27 (5): 755–68. JSTOR 3792537. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9221.2006.00531.x. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Crawford, Jarret T.; Jussim, Lee; Cain, Thomas R.; Cohen, Florette (2013). "Right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance orientation differentially predict biased evaluations of media reports". Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 43: 163–74. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2012.00990.x. 
  12. Duckitt, John; Sibley, Chris G. (2007). "Right wing authoritarianism, social dominance orientation and the dimensions of generalized prejudice". European Journal of Personality. 21 (2): 113–30. doi:10.1002/per.614. 
  13. Asbrock, Frank; Sibley, Chris G.; Duckitt, John (2009). "Right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance orientation and the dimensions of generalized prejudice: A longitudinal test". European Journal of Personality: 324–40. doi:10.1002/per.746. 
  14. Ekehammar, Bo; Akrami, Nazar; Gylje, Magnus; Zakrisson, Ingrid. "What matters most to prejudice: Big Five personality, Social Dominance Orientation, or Right-Wing Authoritarianism?". European Journal of Personality. 18 (6): 463–482. doi:10.1002/per.526. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 Akrami, Nazar; Ekehammar, Bo (2006-01-01). "Right-Wing Authoritarianism and Social Dominance Orientation". Journal of Individual Differences. 27 (3): 117–126. ISSN 1614-0001. doi:10.1027/1614-0001.27.3.117. 
  16. Perry, Ryan; Sibley, Chris G. (2012-01-01). "Big-Five personality prospectively predicts Social Dominance Orientation and Right-Wing Authoritarianism". Personality and Individual Differences. 52 (1): 3–8. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2011.08.009. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Sibley, Chris G.; Duckitt, John (2008-08-01). "Personality and Prejudice: A Meta-Analysis and Theoretical Review". Personality and Social Psychology Review. 12 (3): 248–279. ISSN 1088-8683. PMID 18641385. doi:10.1177/1088868308319226. 
  18. Heaven, Patrick C. L.; Bucci, Sandra (2001-01-01). "Right-wing authoritarianism, social dominance orientation and personality: an analysis using the IPIP measure". European Journal of Personality. 15 (1): 49–56. ISSN 1099-0984. doi:10.1002/per.389. 
  19. Hodson, Gordon; Hogg, Sarah M.; MacInnis, Cara C. (2009-08-01). "The role of "dark personalities" (narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy), Big Five personality factors, and ideology in explaining prejudice". Journal of Research in Personality. 43 (4): 686–690. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2009.02.005. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Sidanius, Jim; Kteily, Nour; Sheehy-Skeffington, Jennifer; Ho, Arnold K.; Sibley, Chris; Duriez, Bart (2013-06-01). "You're Inferior and Not Worth Our Concern: The Interface Between Empathy and Social Dominance Orientation". Journal of Personality. 81 (3): 313–323. ISSN 1467-6494. doi:10.1111/jopy.12008. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 Bäckström, Martin; Björklund, Fredrik (2007-01-01). "Structural Modeling of Generalized Prejudice". Journal of Individual Differences. 28 (1): 10–17. ISSN 1614-0001. doi:10.1027/1614-0001.28.1.10. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Sidanius, Jim; Pratto, Felicia; Bobo, Lawrence (1996). "Racism, conservatism, Affirmative Action, and intellectual sophistication: A matter of principled conservatism or group dominance?". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 70 (3): 476–90. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.70.3.476. 
  23. 23.0 23.1 Fischer, Ronald; Hanke, Katja; Sibley, Chris G. (2012). "Cultural and Institutional Determinants of Social Dominance Orientation: A Cross-Cultural Meta-Analysis of 27 Societies". Political Psychology. 33 (4): 437–67. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9221.2012.00884.x. 
  24. Küpper, Beate; Zick, Andreas (2011-02-01). "Inverse gender gap in Germany: Social dominance orientation among men and women". International Journal of Psychology. 46 (1): 33–45. ISSN 1464-066X. doi:10.1080/00207594.2010.491121. 
  25. Pratto, Felicia; Hegarty, Peter (2000-01-01). "The Political Psychology of Reproductive Strategies". Psychological Science. 11 (1): 57–62. ISSN 0956-7976. PMID 11228844. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.00215. 
  26. Mast, Marianne Schmid (2002). "Dominance as Expressed and Inferred Through Speaking Time". Human Communication Research. 28 (3): 420. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2958.2002.tb00814.x. 
  27. Mast, M. S. (2002). "Female Dominance Hierarchies: Are They Any Different from Males'?". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 28: 29–39. doi:10.1177/0146167202281003. 
  28. Eagly, Alice H.; Diekman, Amanda B.; Johannesen-Schmidt, Mary C.; Koenig, Anne M. "Gender Gaps in Sociopolitical Attitudes: A Social Psychological Analysis.". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 87 (6): 796–816. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.87.6.796. 
  29. 29.0 29.1 Foels, Rob; Reid, Landon D. (2010-04-15). "Gender Differences in Social Dominance Orientation: The Role of Cognitive Complexity". Sex Roles. 62 (9-10): 684–692. ISSN 0360-0025. doi:10.1007/s11199-010-9775-5.