Social dominance theory


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Overview

Social dominance theory, formulated by Sidanius and Pratto (1999), is designed to explain the origin and consequence of social hierarchies and oppression (for a review, see Pratto, Sidanius, & Levin, 2006). In particular, social dominance theory attempts to explain why society seems to be underpinned by a hierarchy of groups, ranging from dominant to subordinate. According to this theory, many myths, policies, and practices in society unfairly advantage dominant groups over subordinate groups. These myths and ideologies maintain and amplify existing hierarchies as well as represent a consequence of these inequities.

Key features of social dominance theory

The disproportionate allocation of commodities

Social dominance theory identifies several mechanisms by which hierarchies are developed and maintained (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). First, according to this theory, many social institutions, such as financial organizations, educational bodies, and religious establishments, tend to distribute desired goods to dominant and powerful collectives disproportionately. These dominant collectives, such as affluent sectors of society, for example, receive undue levels of money, prestige, power, and health care, for example. In contrast, these social institutions allocate undesirable commodities, such as dangerous work, incarceration, and contempt, towards subordinate collectives.

Apart from financial organizations, educational bodies, and religious establishments, institutions that promote this inequity include many multinational corporations, internal security, such as FBI, KGB, or SAVAK, and criminal justice systems. To illustrate, subordinate groups are represented disproportionately in prisons and torture chambers, even after rates of criminality are controlled (e.g., Mauer, 1999; Miller, 1996; Nelson, 2000).

In addition to the practices of institutions, dominant individuals also engage in behaviors that promote discrimination. Recruiters, real estate agents, prosecutors, and many other individuals might enact behaviors that disadvantage particular ethnicities, classes, or genders for example. Nevertheless, in contrast to institutions, the power and influence of individuals is relatively limited. That is, institutions have access to more resources, are granted more influence across locales, can control the behavior of individuals, and--like military organizations--are granted legal status that minimizes culpability.

Some common practices do increase the power and influence of dominant individuals. Successful employees can recommend their friends as job applicants. Tutors can assist individuals within their neighborhood. These practices, over time, can further reinforce inequalities.

The justification of inequitable allocation of commodities

Gradually, over time, ideologies or myths evolve that legitimize this inequitable distribution of commodities (see Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). That is, these ideologies represent beliefs, attitudes, values, stereotypes, and rituals that justify practices and policies that benefit dominant and powerful collectives.

Examples of these myths include the notion of fate, which implies that some practices, and thus forms of discrimination, cannot be changed, nationalism, which implies that violence against depleted countries is acceptable, and explanations of poverty, in which deprivation is imputed to the communities, curbing responsibility of broader society. Other examples include the belief in a just world--that individuals receive the rewards they deserve--and the divine right of leaders. These myths or ideologies imply that inequality is inevitable, fair, and moral.

These ideologies, because they are promulgated by dominant collectives--the very collectives that often receive undue respect--tend to be embraced by individuals. Individuals, therefore, will tend to engage in practices that align with these ideologies and thus perpetuate social hierarchies. These myths do not only perpetuate hierarchies, but encourage subordinates to also accept and maintain these inequities.

Indeed, the extent to which a myth is embraced or consensual, even across dominant and subordinate coalitions, determines the potency of this ideology. That is, across these groups, consensus tends to be more prevalent than dissonance, at least in stable systems. Nevertheless, in general, dominant groups are more likely than subordinate groups to embrace myths that enhance these inequalities.

Attenuation of hierarchy

Although dominant collectives attempt to maintain their position in society, other institutions might promulgate ideologies and instill practices that attenuate the existing hierarchies (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). These institutions include human rights organizations, councils that support civil liberties, some welfare agencies, a proportion of religious organizations, and public defenders, for example. These institutions attempts to assist subordinate groups, increasing their access to resources, information, and commodities. Perhaps, as a consequence of these institutions, the existing hierarchical structure remains in relative equilibrium.

Furthermore, these institutions promulgate ideologies and myths that attenuate hierarchies. Political doctrines, such as socialism, some religious doctrines, such as assistance to the poor, and humanist doctrines, such as universal rights to all individuals, represent examples of these ideologies. In general, dominant groups are less likely than subordinate groups to embrace myths that attenuate inequalities. Nevertheless, like myths that enhance hierarchies, myths that attenuate hierarchies are usually accepted by all groups in a stable society.

Behavioral asymmetry

Many ideologies are, either deliberately or inadvertently, intended to foster practices and policies that maintain or amplify this disproportionate allocation of resources. As a consequence, ideologies will often justify the tendency of some, or all, members of dominant collectives to engage in behaviors that advance their personal interest--that is, egocentric behavior. In addition, these ideologies will often justify the inclination of other individuals, specifically members of subordinate collectives, to enact behaviors that do not advance their personal interest. That is, egocentric behavior is more likely to be endorsed in members of dominant, rather than subordinate, collectives. Behavioral symmetry refers to the observation that dominant and subordinate individuals tend to engage in different repertoires of behavior. These behaviors, however, tend to favor dominant individuals.

Three processes tend to maintain this behavioral asymmetry. First, members are more likely to show biases towards individuals within their collective, if these groups are dominant rather than subordinate. This tendency is especially pronounced in individuals who do indeed embrace the myths and ideologies that maintain social hierarchies (Sidanius and Pratto, 1999). This finding implies that such myths do somehow encourage more favoritism within dominant groups than within subordinate groups.

Second, members are more likely to engage in behaviors that damage their group, if the collective is subordinate rather than dominant. For example, violence towards members of the group, substance abuse, and criminality are all more prevalent in subordinate groups. Many myths do indeed incite such behavior. Stereotypes that subordinate groups are inferior, for example, might increase the likelihood that such individuals do not perform proficiently in education or work settings, called stereotype threat (see Croizet & Claire, 1998; Spencer, Steele, & Quinn, 1999; Steele & Aronson, 1995). When the stereotypes are not salient, and hence the threat is relieved, their performance tends to be restored. Even the myth that women need to ensure they are attractive has been shown to evoke a perception of themselves as sexual objects that compromises performance (e.g., Fredrickson, Roberts, Noll, Quinn, & Twenge, 1998).

Third, the roles of dominant individuals are often compatible with myths that maintain or enhance hierarchies (Sidanius, Feshbach, Levin, & Pratto, 1997). That is, they might be assigned roles in which they must identify the limitations of subordinate members. This role, hence, legitimizes the myth that difficulties can be attributed to limitations in the person themselves rather than contextual constraints.

Accordingly, over time, dominant individuals become especially likely to embrace the myths that legitimize hierarchies, called a social dominance orientation. Indeed, social dominance orientation is higher in dominant groups than subordinate groups, especially in individuals who identify strongly with their own collective (e.g., Levin & Sidanius, 1999; Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). Discrimination is also more rampant in individuals who experience social dominance orientation and identify with their dominant group (Overbeck, Jost, Mosso, Flizik, 2004).

Three forms of hierarchy

According to social dominance theory, in any society that produces an economic surplus--in other words, in any society that transcends merely hunting and gathering--three distinct systems of hierarchy operate. First, in all societies, the age of individuals determines their position in one of these hierarchies. Adults are granted disproportionate power over children. Second, in all societies, the gender of individuals determines their position in another hierarchy. Men are usually, if not invariably, granted disproportionate power in social, military, and political spheres. Third, in all societies, some arbitrary factor also affects accessibility to key commodities. These factors might include nationality, ethnicity, class, religion, or creed.

These three hierarchies underpin all human societies as well as many primate societies, as studies in chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and baboons (see, for example, Kawanaka, 1982, 1989). Nevertheless, characteristics of these hierarchies can vary fundamentally across societies. The ages that demarcate childhood, adolescence, and adulthood vary across societies as does the extent to which labor, sexuality, marriage, and freedom is prohibited in children. Gender inequalities, although universal, do differ across societies.

The three systems also differ fundamentally from one another (see Sidanius & Pratto, 1999; Sidanius & Veniegas, 2000). First, the boundaries that differentiate the groups are more permeable for arbitrary hierarchies compared to age or gender hierarchies. Likewise, the salience of groups varies across time to a greater degree in arbitrary hierarchies relative to age or gender hierarchies. Second, the likelihood that one group might attempt to annihilate another group sometimes arises, but only in arbitrary hierarchies, never in age or gender hierarchies. In arbitrary hierarchies, discrimination primarily represents one coalition of males dominating another coalition of males. Violent campaigns, for example, are also always instigated and coordinated by men (Keegan, 1993).

Alignment between institutions and individuals

Individuals who reject the ideologies that perpetuate these hierarchies, called a low social dominance orientation, are more attracted to roles that indeed attenuate discrimination.

Individuals who embrace these ideologies, called a high social dominance orientation, are more attracted to social institutions that amplify the hierarchies. Consistent with this proposition, public defenders are less likely to report a social dominance orientation than police officers.

Several processes facilitate this alignment between institutions and individuals. First, individuals will tend to choose social roles that are compatible with their social dominance orientation. Individuals who report an elevated social dominance orientation, for example, perceive roles that amplify the existing hierarchy, such as corporate executives and law enforcement officers, as more attractive. Individuals who report a low social dominance orientation, in contrast, perceive roles that attenutate the existing hierarchy, such as civil rights lawyers, as more attractive.

Second, institutions tend to select individuals who social dominance orientation aligns with the implicit objective of this organization to amplify or attenuate hierarchy. If employing someone for a role that involves enhancing the hierarchy, individuals tend to prefer candidates whose activities imply social dominance orientation. They infer this orientation from activities such as participation in initiatives that support free enterprise.

Third, institutions tend to instill socialization practices that transform the belief, values, attitudes, and stereotypes of individuals to ensure these ideologies match the function of these organizations. Organizations that enhance hierarchies will instill ideologies that favor social dominance (Sidanius, Pratto, Martin, & Stallworth, 1991b). Indeed, Guimond (2000) showed that racism, xenophobia, and other discriminatory attitudes were more prevalent after training in a police academy--an institution that tends to amplify hierarchy.

Fourth, and similar to this socialization process, individuals who engage in behaviors that align with the functions of their organization are obviously rewarded. If the institution amplifies hierarchies, individuals who demonstrate beliefs or behaviors that align with this function will be rewarded. Hence, they are more inclined to assume influential positions within these organizations as well as adjust their belief and behaviors to accommodate the institution (van Laar, Sidanius, Rabinowitz, & Sinclair, 1999).

Finally, individuals will tend to leave institutions in which their orientations or behaviors depart from the function or objective of the institution (e.g., Haley & Sidanius, 2005). Thus, any mismatch corresponds to higher rates of attrition.

Sidanius, van Laar, Levin, and Sinclair (2003) showed that alignment can enhance enjoyment, perhaps because of a sense of fit that individuals enjoy. Individuals whose college major aligned with their social dominance orientation were more inclined to enjoy their course, for example.

Job advertisements

As Gaucher, Friesen, and Kay (2011) showed, some dominant groups might attempt to maintain their dominance by skewing job advertisements subtly. For example, in industries that are dominated by males, such as engineering or management, men might construct job advertisements that tend to attract other men. They might, for example, refer to traits that relate to agency, such as confident and headstrong, rather than traits that relate to communion, such as considerate and kind. Women who read these job advertisements might not feel they will belong and thus may not seek these roles.

Gaucher, Friesen, and Kay (2011) undertook five studies that verify these arguments. One of the studies was a content analysis of job advertisements. In industries dominated by men, such as plumbing and engineering, the job advertisements often referred to traits that correspond to agency, such as confident and headstrong. In contrast, in industries dominated by women, such as bookkeeping and human resources, job advertisements did not often allude to these traits.

The likelihood that job advertisements alluded to traits that relate to communion did not differ between the industries. These findings imply that perhaps men, in industries dominated by males, included words that deter women. These findings cannot be ascribed to social role theory, however. This theory assumes that men are associated with agency and women are associated with communion. According to this theory, references to communion should have been more prevalent in industries that are dominated by women.

In some additional studies, participants were exposed to job advertisements in a range of industries. Some of the job advertisements included more words that relate to agency instead of communion, whereas other job advertisements referred more to communion than agency. Regardless of the industry, if job advertisements related more to agency, women were more likely to assume the percentage of females at this organization would be limited and thus felt they would not experience a sense of belonging. They would, therefore, be inclined to dismiss the job.

Social dominance orientation

The extent to which individuals embrace myths and ideologies that maintain or amplify hierarchies in society is called a social dominance orientation. More specifically, some individuals are more inclined to engage in acts that favor dominant groups, more accepting of behaviors that discriminate social categories, more prejudiced towards other collectives, and more dismissive of egalitarian policies. For example, they are especially inclined to embrace policies that restrict immigration but reject affirmative action.

Initially, social dominance orientation was conceptualized as the extent to which individuals desire their own group to be dominant over other groups (Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994). Gradually, this definition has shifted, however. More recently, social dominance orientation has been conceptualized as a desire for hierarchy and inequity between dominant and subordinate groups, regardless of the (Sidanius, Levin, Federico, & Pratto, 2001a). Accordingly, if individuals identify themselves with a subordinate group, social dominance orientation translates to an acceptance towards this subordination.

Measures of social dominance orientation

A scale has been developed to assess social dominance orientation. The scale comprises 14 or 16 items respectively, depending on whether the fifth or sixth version is used. Typical items include: "Some groups of people are just more worthy than others", "Inferior groups should stay in their place", or "In getting what your group wants, it is sometimes necessary to use force against other groups". Some of the items are reversed scored, such as "No one group should dominate in society", "We should strive to make incomes more equal", and "All groups should be given an equal chance in life". Participants rate the extent to which they agree or approve of these items on a seven point scale (Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994).

Internal consistency of the scale is adequate. Sidanius and Pratto (1999), for example, showed the median level of internal consistency of the fifth version was .82, across four nations, 16 samples, and 2150 participants. Internal consistency is similar, approximately .83, for the sixth version.

Sidanius, Pratto, and Bobo (1996) have also developed a measure of social dominance orientation that comprises only four items. Questions include: "It's okay if some groups have more of a chance in life than others" and "If certain groups stayed in their place, we would have fewer problems". Cronbach's alpha approximates .78 (see also Knowles, Lowery, Hogan, & Chow, 2009).

Discriminant validity of social dominance orientation

Discriminant validity has been examined as well. The scale is not highly related, for example, to interpersonal dominance for example (Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994).

Social dominance orientation is related to, but is distinct from right wing authoritarianism (e.g., Altemeyer, 1998). Social dominant orientation is associated with the belief that our world is competitive, because of a key desire for power (Duckitt, Wagner, de Plessis, Birum, 2002; Duriez & van Hiel, 2002). In contrast, right wing authoritarianism, the belief that authority should be followed, is associated with the belief that out world is dangerous and threatening, highlighting the need for security (Duckitt, Wagner, de Plessis, Birum, 2002; Duriez & van Hiel, 2002). They are more frightened than callous.

To illustrate, in one study, conducted by Crowson (2009), American participants completed measures of social dominance orientation and right wing authoritarianism. In addition, they completed measures that assess dangerous world beliefs (see Duckitt, 2001), with items like "Any day now chaos and anarchy could erupt around us", as well as competitive world beliefs, comprising items like "It's a dog-eat-dog world where you have to be ruthless at times". Finally, participants specified the extent to which they approve of measures intended to curb terrorism.

As structural equation modeling showed, dangerous world beliefs were related to right wing authoritarianism, which in turn was associated with the endorsement of war in Iraq and reductions in civil liberties to curb terrorism. In addition, competitive world beliefs were related to social dominance orientation, which in turn was associated with the endorsement of reductions in civil liberties. The correlation between right wing authoritarianism and social dominance orientation was .45.

Convergent validity of social dominance orientation

Social dominance orientation, however, is related to racism (see Duriez & van Hiel, 2002; Esses, Dovidio, Jackson, & Armstrong, 2001; Heaven & Quintin, 2003; Levin, 2004; Pratto & Lemieux, 2001) and sexism (Bates & Heaven, 2001; Heaven, 1999; Lippa & Arad, 1999; Pratto et al., 2000; Russell & Trigg, 2004). Furthermore, individuals who report a social dominance orientation are more inclined to blame victims of rape, espouse nationalist positions, support wars, accept death penalties, and oppose immigration--beliefs that maintain or enhance the prevailing hierarchies (see Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994; Sidanius & Pratto, 1999)

Threats can amplify some of these effects. For example, when status is threatened, individuals with a high, rather than low, social dominance orientation are especially inclined to show implicit manifestations of prejudice (Pratto & Shih, 2000). That is, they become more inclined to endorse myths and engage in behaviors that maintain their dominance.

Social dominance orientation also shows incremental validity. This orientation, for example, is related to a composite index of prejudice, after controlling right wing authoritarianism, self esteem, neuroticism, psychoticism, social desirability biases, conformity, gender and several other scales and demographics (McFarland & Adelson, 1996, cited in Pratto, Sidanius, & Levin, 2006; see also Altemeyer, 1998, for similar findings).

Importantly, when social dominance orientation is elevated, individuals in Lebanon were less likely to support terrorism against the West (Sidanius, Levin, Federico, & Pratto, 2001a). This finding confirms the proposition that social dominance orientation reflects the inclination to accept policies that reinforce extant hierarchies--in this instance, dominance of the West. Individuals with an elevated social dominance orientation, therefore, often espouse policies that disadvantage their own subordinate group.

Kemmelmeier (2005) showed that social dominance orientation also correlates with discrimination in laboratory settings. Social dominance orientation was associated with perceptions of guilt in a rape trial, but only when the defendant was Black rather than White. Michinov, Dambrun, and Guimond (2005) showed that individuals with a social dominance orientation are more inclined to employ applicants with lighter skin. Amiot and Bourhis (2005) also showed that individuals with an elevated social dominance orientation are more inclined to discriminate when they allocate resources or costs, even in minimal group research. Finally, and perhaps intriguingly, White individuals tend to perform more effectively on arithmetic tasks when the experimenter was Black rather than White (Danso & Esses, 2001). Hence, dominant groups will strive to maintain their position in the hierarchy when members of subordinate groups are granted authority.

Multiple dimensions of social dominance orientation

According to Jost and Thompson (2000), the social dominance orientation scale comprises two distinct facets. The first factor, called group based dominance, represents attitudes towards dominance, aggression, and control. This facet alludes to motives of the in-group to dominate other groups. In particular, this facet comprises eight items, such as "Superior groups should dominate inferior group".

The second factor, called opposition to equality, represents the extent to which individuals embrace or accept inequality. This facet alludes to motivations to preserve the social hierarchy or inequality, regardless of the status or position of the ingroup to which participants belong.

These two factors correspond to distinct antecedents and consequences (Jost & Thompson, 2000). For example, moral elevation--a state that individuals experience after they are exposed to an act of unexpected altruism--encourages donations, especially in participants who report elevated levels of group based dominance (Freeman, Aquino, & McFerran, 2009). According to Freeman, Aquino, and McFerran (2009), levels of internal consistency approach an alpha of .91 for group based dominance and .88 for opposition to equality.

Determinants of social dominance orientation

Five factors seem to affect the development of a social dominance orientation. First, members of dominant groups are more likely to exhibit a social dominance orientation than are members of subordinate groups (e.g., Sidanius, Levin, Liu, & Pratto, 2000).

Second, the social context also affects this tendency for dominant groups to exhibit a social dominance orientation. Levin (2004) showed that social dominance orientation was not appreciably between European Americans and African Americans, when the differences in status between these groups were minimal. Indeed, as shown by Levin (1996), even when individuals are encouraged to reflect upon rivals that are subordinate rather than equal or dominant, their level of social dominance orientation rises.

Third, although not regarded as a trait, social dominance orientation is partly shaped by the personality and temperament of individuals. A variety of studies have examined the relationship between social dominance orientation and various traits (e.g., Altemeyer, 1998; Duckitt, Wagner, du Plessis, & Birum, 2002; Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994). Social dominance is inversely related to openness and agreeableness--as well as negatively related to elements of these traits, such as empathy. In contrast, social dominance orientation is positively related to elements of disagreeableness, including coldness, vindictiveness, and aggression.

Despite this relationship to personality and temperament, social dominance orientation does change across contexts. However, as some evidence indicates, the relative levels of social dominance orientation across participants remains relatively invariant, if other factors are controlled. For example, suppose one participant is higher in social dominance orientation than is another participant. This difference will be maintained across contexts, assuming the situations do not affect the relative dominance of these individuals (Levin, 1996; Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994).

Fourth, social dominance orientation tends to be elevated in men relative to women (Levin, 2004; Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). Consistent with this possibility, men tend to be more likely than women to reject inclusive traditions as well as policies that advocate change, but embrace inequality, xenophobia, and war (Ekehammar & Sidanius, 1982; Heaven, 1999; Marjoribanks, 1981; Pratto, 1996; Sidanius & Ekehammar, 1980).

Domestic labor and childcare are key needs that families need to fulfill, and usually the obligations differ between men and women. Typically, some of these gender inequalities affect the roles of women more generally in society, and hence gender and arbitrary hierarchies become interconnected. Men tend to be involved in roles, such as police, military, and business, that exacerbate the hierarchy, and women tend to be involved in roles, such as social workers, that attenuate this hierarchy (Pratto & Walker, 2004).

Interestingly, as Sidanius, Liu, Pratto, & Shaw (1994a) showed, these gender differences in social dominance orientation do not depend on political affiliation, religious affiliation, region of origin, education, income, or some attitudinal factors (see also Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). These findings, and similar observations, such as the discovery that status does not affect these gender differences, are very telling: they indicate that gender differences cannot be entirely ascribed to discrepancies in status.

Instead, gender differences that are invariant across cultures might, at least partly, explain these findings. One invariant characteristic emanates from parental investment theory, proposed by Trivers (1972), in which women invest more of their resources to achieve reproductive success and, therefore, are more selective about mates (Buss, 1989; Buss & Schmitt, 1993). Men benefit if they can access multiple sexual partners--and if their sexual partners do not invest in children conceived with another partner. These strategies can ultimately explain the increased sexual jealousy and aggression in men (Buss, 1989; Buss & Schmitt, 1993).

Finally, social dominance orientation is dependent upon socialization experiences, such as imposition of specific doctrines, traumatic life experiences, and education. Duckitt (2001) showed that unaffectionate socialization might, ultimately, culminate in social dominance orientation.

Career paths and social dominance orientation

The education and career path of individuals might also affect social dominance orientation. Individuals, for example, are more inclined to espouse an elevated social dominance orientation after they study more than six semesters, rather than fewer than two semesters, of law (Guimond, Dambrun, Michinov, & Duarte, 2003). Law is a discipline that might legitimize myths that promote inequality. Thus, exposure to law does seem to foster a social dominance orientation.

In contrast, social dominance orientation tends to diminish after individuals complete more units in psychology (Guimond, Dambrun, Michinov, & Duarte, 2003). Nevertheless, Dambrun, Kamiejski, Haddadi, and Duarte (2009) showed that social dominance orientation does not seem to change significantly across the first three years of psychology.

Conceivably, exposure to psychology might nullify the usual escalation in social dominance orientation that coincides with increases in status. As individuals complete more subjects at university, their perceived status might increase, and their social dominance orientation might rise. Exposure to psychology might mitigate this tendency. Consistent with this possibility, social dominance orientation was higher in third year students, relative to first year students, but only in individuals enrolled in biology rather than psychology (Dambrun, Kamiejski, Haddadi, & Duarte, 2009).

Indeed, Dambrun, Kamiejski, Haddadi, and Duarte (2009) uncovered the mechanisms that underpin this association between psychology and social dominance orientation. Specifically, individuals who study psychology become more cognizant of the multifaceted determinants of behavior, such as the effect of family dynamics, work environments, social circles, and so forth. As a consequence, they do not ascribe behavior merely to genes or biology. Consistent with this proposition, psychology students, after three years of study, were less inclined to endorse statements such as "People's behavior is determined primarily by genes".

Because psychology students do not overestimate the role of genes in behavior, they do not assume that some social collectives are inherently or biologically superior. They will, therefore, reject many of the myths that legitimize inequalities. Their social dominance orientation will diminish. Indeed, the belief that genes do not dictate behavior was inversely related to social dominance orientation (Dambrun, Kamiejski, Haddadi, & Duarte, 2009).

Some scholars differentiate between two processes that connect the social context to the social dominance orientation of individuals: normative and informational effects (see, for example, Guimond, 2000). Normative influences relate to cues that indicate which inclinations, values, or behaviors prevail and are manifested as peer pressure. Informational influences relate to exposure to knowledge and ideologies.

The provisions of service to disadvantaged communities

As Brown (2011) revealed, after individuals interact with members of disadvantaged communities, to offer services and support, social dominance orientation tends to diminish. In one study, university students were assigned to one of two conditions. In one condition, students undertook two hours of service each week, over nine weeks. They could participate in a variety of agencies, such as nursing homes, homeless shelters, hospice facilities, and so forth. One of the principles was to ensure they interacted with individuals in need. Another principle was to ensure they derived insights and lessons from these individuals. In the control condition, participants merely undertook research on various disadvantaged communities, such as the issues of homelessness.

After nine weeks, participants completed a measure of social dominance orientation, reflecting the degree to which they perceived some groups as inherently superior to other groups. They also completed a measure of empathic concern, with questions including "I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me".

Compared to the other participants, the individuals who participated in service learning demonstrated lower levels of social dominance orientation. Empathic concern mediated this relationship. Presumably, when the students attempted to support disadvantaged people, they needed to understand the perspective and feelings of these individuals. That is, they needed to imagine life from the perspective of disadvantaged people. Consequently, they became mindful of the challenges that some individuals need to overcome. They realized these communities are not inherently inferior but hindered by intractable obstacles, curbing social dominance orientation.

As Brown (2011) highlighted, not all forms of support or service will necessarily reduce social dominance orientation. Some forms of support enable disadvantaged individuals to pursue their own goals; that is, assistance can facilitate autonomy. Other forms of support--especially financial donations--can, instead, increase dependence. Support that facilitates autonomy rather than dependence may be more likely to foster empathy and reduce social dominance orientation.

Ease with which social relationships can be learnt or memorized

In one study, reported by Zitek and Tiedens (2011), some participants received a diagram that comprised 7 male faces. The seven faces were arranged hierarchically: One face was located at the top; two faces were located underneath this face; four faces were located at the bottom. Other participants received the same diagram except the faces were female. Finally, some participants received one of these two diagrams, but the hierarchy was reversed. That is, the row with one face appeared on the bottom and so forth.

Participants were asked to memorize the diagram. Next, the diagram was removed, and participants were presented with the seven faces and were instructed to reproduce this arrangement. They were then permitted to scan the diagram again until they could successfully reproduce this arrangement. Especially if the hierarchy was reversed or female, participants often needed to scan the diagram several times. After they reproduced the diagram correctly, they completed a measure of social dominance orientation.

This study uncovered an intriguing result. Specifically, if participants needed to scan the diagram many times, they were more likely to report a social dominance orientation.

According to Zitek and Tiedens (2011), people can learn hierarchical social relationships more efficiently and fluently than egalitarian social relationships. Somehow, the hierarchy facilitates memory. That is, hierarchies are common and tend to conform to a specific pattern and, therefore, are easy to learn. Consequently, whenever people cannot learn a series of relationships rapidly, they would like a hierarchy to emerge. This inclination translates to a preference towards inequality and thus can evoke a social dominance orientation.

Realistic threat

Sometimes, individuals identify closely with a group they feel is under threat. They might, for example, conceptualize themselves as a European American, proud of their culture and heritage. But, they might read that Asian Americans are usurping their position of authority and assuming many leadership roles. In response to this threat, individuals strive to preserve their existing position and status. Consequently, they will uphold and advocate practices that preserve the hierarchy that now pervades their society, manifesting as a social dominance orientation. In short, as this argument implies, a realistic threat to a group can increase social dominance orientation (Morrison and Ybarra, 2008).

This possibility was vindicated by Morrison and Ybarra (2008). In one study, for example, some participants were exposed to a realistic threat. They completed questions like "Asian Americans are gradually taking over the United States", to underscore the possibility of this threat. In the control condition, participants completed questions like "Asian Americans are bad drivers". These questions did not highlight the possibility of a threat to the supremacy or status of European Americans. The realistic threat did indeed increase scores on a subsequent measure of social dominance orientation--but only in European American participants who claim they strongly identify with their racial identity.

Correlates of social dominance orientation

Dark personality traits

Hodson, Hogg, and MacInnis (2009) showed that social dominance orientation is related to the traditional unfavorable, or dark, personality traits: narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.

Narcissism represents an inclination in some individuals to inflate their importance or power, perceiving themselves as entitled and special (Vernon, Villani, Vickers, & Harris, 2008). They often seem defensive, either aggressive or upset, when criticized (see Narcissism).

Psychopathy, in the subclinical range, represents the extent to which individuals are impulsive, callous, and manipulative rather than empathic or remorseful (Hare, 1991). Two facets are sometimes distinguished: callous affect towards individuals, called primary psychopathy, as well as interpersonal manipatulion, which coincides with a life of crime or erratic behaviors, called secondary psychopathy (Hare, 1991; Paulhus & Williams, 2002).

Machiavellianism, which is similar to psychopathy (Lee & Ashton, 2005; McHoskey, Worzel, & Szyarto, 1998), represents the extent to which individuals maximize their own interests to the detriment of everyone else. This trait corresponds to exploitation and insincerity rather than concern for other individuals (Christie & Geis, 1970). The heritability of Machiavellianism and psychopathy differ (Vernon, Villani, Vickers, & Harris, 2008), indicating they might reflect distinct traits.

Correlations between these three dark traits--narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism--and social dominance orientation approximates .23, .38. and .37 respectively. Furthermore, social dominance orientation partly mediates the association between these dark traits and measures of prejudice (Hodson, Hogg, & MacInnis, 2009).

Leadership style

As Nicol (2009) showed, social dominance orientation also correlates with leadership style. Specifically, if leaders exhibit an elevated social dominance orientation, they tend to prioritize production over individual consideration or tolerance to uncertainty. To illustrate, they endorse items like "I encourage overtime work" but do not endorse items like "I do little things to make it pleasant to be a member of the group" or "I permit the members to use their own judgment". Therefore, and perhaps regrettably, the people who strive to be leaders because of their hierarchical beliefs exhibit qualities that can damage the loyalty and effort of followers.

Preferences towards alternative counterterrorism initiatives

Governments can introduce a variety of measures to prevent terrorism. They can, for example, engage in military responses. That is, they could advocate air strikes against terrorist weapons or supplies. Alternatively, they could introduce initiatives that facilitate policing, intelligence, and the courts, such as to improve cooperation among police forces and criminal courts, ultimately to locate and sentence terrorists more effectively.

Interestingly, social dominance orientation and right wing authoritarianism affect which measures individuals prefer (De Zavala & Kossowska, 2011). Specifically, if individuals adopt a social dominance orientation, they tend to perceive society as competitive, in which collectives strive to dominate one another. Consequently, they tend to conceptualize terrorism as a war in which threatening collectives--these terrorist organizations and ideologies--are striving to secure power. Because they perceive terrorists as warriors and members of a threatening collective, they become more aware of intergroup tensions, such as conflict between Western nations and Islamist ideologies. When individuals are aware of these conflicts, they become more inclined to endorse a military response. These military responses, however, often aggravate tensions between collectives and can provoke radicalization.

In contrast, right wing authoritarianism generates a different sequence of opinions. Specifically, if individuals embrace this ideology, they covet order and predictability. They feel hostile towards anyone who does not comply with societal conventions but violates this sense of order. Consequently, they are more inclined to perceive terrorists as criminals who breach these regulations. Because of this perspective, they tend to embrace measures that facilitate law and order; they are not as receptive to military responses.

De Zavala and Kossowska (2011) undertook two studies that support these arguments. In the first study, participants completed measures of social dominance orientation, right wing authoritarianism, and their political orientation. Next, participants were asked the likelihood that a typical terrorist from Al Qaeda demonstrates a variety of characteristics. Some of the characteristics related to whether terrorists were perceived as soldiers or warriors, such as organized or power hungry. Other characteristics related to whether terrorists were perceived as criminals, such as bloodthirsty lawbreakers. Finally, participants were asked to indicate the degree to which feel that military actions or improvements in law and order should be implemented to counter terrorism.

When social dominance orientation was elevated, individuals were more likely to perceive terrorists as soldiers or warriors, fighting to promote some ideology or organization. This perception of terrorism was associated with endorsement of military responses, particularly in participants who reported a social dominance orientation. When right wing authoritarianism was elevated, individuals were more likely to perceive terrorists as criminals--and this perspective encouraged endorsement of law and order initiatives. A second study was similar, except perspectives of terrorists were manipulated, rather than measured, by presenting participants with different speeches.

Social explanation

Some people tend to ascribe failures and achievements, such as poverty and wealth, to the traits of individuals. They may, assume, for example, that people or communities that flourish tend to be more ambitious, talented, motivated, or better at managing money. These people are likely to feel disdain towards deprived communities, reminiscent of a social dominance orientation.

In contrast, some people tend to ascribe failures and achievements to features of the context that cannot be controlled, such as political influence, educational opportunities, discrimination, or inheritance. In short, people invoke different theories to explain economics success and social indicators.

Kraus, Piff, and Keltner (2009) investigated the determinants of these explanations. They showed that people who seem low in socioeconomic status are more likely to ascribe inequality, success, and deprivation to features of the context rather than traits of individuals. This relationship was mediated by a limited sense of control, epitomized by items like "There is little I can do to change anything in my life".

Presumably, when their socioeconomic status is low, people do not feel they are granted the resources to control their own lives. They feel vulnerable to events in their context or environment, such as government policies. Consequently, they tend to ascribe most economic indicators to features of the context. Consistent with this possibility, after people with a low self-esteem were told to recall a time in which they felt a sense of control, they become more inclined to ascribe economic success to individual traits, such as ability and effort.

Exploitation of the environment

As Milfont, Richter, Sibley, Wilson, and Fischer (2013) showed, if individuals adopt a social dominance orientation, they are more willing to exploit the environment and dismiss the importance of sustainability. In particular, a social dominance orientation encourages people to espouse ideologies that justify the existing hierarchies. Consequently, when people adopt this orientation, they may espouse beliefs that substantiate the dominance of humans over nature. That is, they approve the notion that humans are granted the right to utilize nature and other species to achieve their objectives.

Likewise, when people adopt a social dominance orientation, they perceive the world as competitive and hostile. They feel they must exploit the environment to prevail. A cooperative, caring mindset, perhaps necessary to preserve the environment, conflicts with this orientation.

In one study, a broad range of people from New Zealand completed a short measure that gauges social dominance orientation. Next, they indicated the degree to which they felt that preserving nature and the environment is important. Social dominance orientation was negatively associated with the value attached to the preservation of nature. A later study showed this relationship was preserved even after controlling right wing authoritarianism.

The second study examined whether countries in which social dominance orientation is high are less likely to support policies that preserve the environment. First, the average social dominance orientation of 27 nations was derived from a study conducted by Fischer, Hanke, and Sibley (2012). Second, five key indices were constructed, each of which assesses the degree to which various nations support policies that preserve the environment. One index, for example, was constructed by experts and gauges policies that relate to the environment, such as water, pollution, biodiversity, fisheries, forestry, and climate change. Another index represented the average response to questions that assess attitudes to the environment, such as "Humans have the right to modify the natural environment to suit their needs". As predicted, social dominance orientation was negatively associated with both the degree to which the nation supports policies that preserve the environment.

Associations with other theoretical paradigms

Hemispheric specialization

According to the concept of a hemispheric specialization of motivation, the need for power seems to relate more to the left hemisphere and the need for affiliation seems to relate moer to the right hemisphere. Similarly, social dominance orientation seems to be related to a need for power rather than a need for affiliation (e.g., Pratto, 1999). Conceivably, activation of the right hemisphere, therefore, might reduce social dominance orientation.

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Created by Dr Simon Moss on 21/12/2008

Related objectives:
- Social identity and self categorization - Self construal - Social role theory - Self expansion model - Social dominance theory - Optimal distinctiveness theory - Subjective uncertainty reduction theory - Structural adaptation theory - Socioemotional selectivity theory - Social cognitive conceptions of moral identity - System justification theory - Resource-based perspectives of the firm - Intergroup helping as status relations model - Social exchange theory - The rational choice theory of terrorism - Costly signaling theory - The social identity theory of leadership - Motivated identity construction theory -


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