Social dominance orientation

Social dominance orientation

Social dominance orientation (SDO), is a personality variable which predicts social and political attitudes. It is a widely applied Social Psychological scale. SDO is conceptualised as a measure of individual differences in levels of group-based discrimination and domination; that is, it is a measure of an individual's preference for hierarchy within any given social system. The concept of SDO as a measurable individual difference is a product of Social Dominance Theory.

DO Scale

SDO has been measured by a series of scales 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

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

Reference: "Social Dominance", p. 67.

ocial 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 three-fold group-based hierarchy structure: age-based, gender-based and “arbitrary set-based,” which can include race, class, 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 men than women, but arbitrary-set hierarchies—though quite resilient—are truly arbitrary.

SDT is based on three primary assumptions:

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, ethnocentrisim, sexism, nationalism, classicism, 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, gender (women score lower on SDO), 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.

Group-based And Individual Dominance

Robert Altemeyer construes SDO as a measure which includes aspects of personal dominance, so that high-SDO individuals will aspire to gain more power and climb the social ladder. Altemeyer's research suggested that high SDO scorers were competitive on a personal level (agreeing with items such as "Winning is more important than how you play the game") and were also quite 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."

These observations are clearly distinct from the core concept of SDO, as well as the content of the questions on the SDO. It seems intuitively obvious that there should be a large overlap between levels of group-based and personal dominance; and as such the SDO measure will reflect not only group-based dominance, but levels of interpersonal dominance as well. 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.

Early Development of SDO

While the correlation of group status and gender to SDO has been empiricially confirmed and measured, the impact of temperament and socialization remains more murky.

John 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 the world as a competitive place in which resource competition is zero-sum. A desire to compete, which fits with social dominance orientation, influences ingroup and outgroup attitudes.


Sidanius and Pratto propose that one mediating factor in SDO is androgens, noting primarily that males tend to have higher SDO scores than females, and are also observed to be more socially hierarchical. The biological reason for this difference in dominance is increased levels of androgens, primarily testosterone. Male levels of testosterone are much higher than that of females. Higher levels of androgens are correlated with sexual aggression, dominance, spontaneous aggression and decreased restraint of aggression. There is also a correlation between gains in social status and increased testosterone. Thus there is a potential link between social dominance and aggression.Fact|date=September 2008

=Connection with Right Wing Authoritarianism=

SDO has been deployed with the Right Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) scale. SDO correlates with Right Wing Authoritarian (r ≈ .18) and together they predict to varying degrees many forms of prejudicial attitudes, such as sexist, racist, and heterosexist attitudes. [Sibley et al.: "Social Dominance Orientation and Right-WingAuthoritarianism: Additive and Interactive Effects" in "Political Psychology," Vol. 27, No. 5, 2006.] The correlation, however, is additive rather than interactive (interaction 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 occurs almost entirely independently of RWA, and vice versa. [Sibley et al.: "Social Dominance Orientation and Right-WingAuthoritarianism: Additive and Interactive Effects" in "Political Psychology," Vol. 27, No. 5, 2006.] Little research has been done relating directly to behavior, however.

The SDO scale has been generally very well received by psychologists and is widely used in attitude research.

Connection with Empathy

Together with Empathy, Right Wing Authoritarianism and Social dominance orientation form the big three of prejudice. People scoring low on the former one and high on the latter two are more vulnerable to exhibiting prejudicial attitudes.Fact|date=September 2008


Adorno,T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J. & Sanford, R.N. (1950). "The Authoritarian Personality" New York: Harper.

La Piere, R. (1934) Attitudes and actions. "Social Forces" 13, 230-237

Ray, J.J. (1972a) Militarism, authoritarianism, neuroticism and anti-social behavior. "J. Conflict Resolution," 16, 319-340. (See particularly Appendix H)

Ray, J.J. (1972b) The measurement of political deference: Some Australian data. "British J. Political Science," 2, 244-251.

Ray, J.J. (1976) Do authoritarians hold authoritarian attitudes? "Human Relations," 29, 307-325.

Titus, H.E. & Hollander, E.P. (1957) The California F scale in psychological research: 1950-1955. "Psychological Bulletin," 54, 47-64.

ee also

*Right Wing Authoritarianism
*Moral Majority


*Sidanius, Jim and Pratto, Felicia (2001). "Social Dominance: An Intergroup Theory of Social Hierarchy and Oppression". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-80540-6

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