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Citation Pratto, Felicia, James Sidanius, Lisa M. Stallworth, and Bertram F. Malle. 1994. Social dominance orientation: A personality variable predicting social and political attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 67, no. 4: 741-763.

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Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1994, Vol. 67, No. 4, 741-763

Copyright 1994 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0022-3514/94/S3.00

Social Dominance Orientation: A Personality Variable Predicting Social and Political Attitudes

Felicia Pratto, Jim Sidanius, Lisa M. Stallworth, and Bertram F. Malle

Social dominance orientation (SDO), one’s degree of preference for inequality among social groups, is introduced. On the basis of social dominance theory, it is shown that (a) men are more social dominance-oriented than women, (b) high-SDO people seek hierarchy-enhancing professional roles and low-SDO people seek hierarchy-attenuating roles, (c) SDO was related to beliefs in a large number of social and political ideologies that support group-based hierarchy (e.g., meritocracy and racism) and to support for policies that have implications for intergroup relations (e.g., war, civil rights, and social programs), including new policies. SDO was distinguished from interpersonal dominance, conservatism, and authoritarianism. SDO was negatively correlated with empathy, tolerance, communality, and altruism. The ramifications of SDO in social context are discussed.

Group conflict and group-based inequality are pervasive in human existence. Currently, every continent is enduring some form of ethnic conflict, from the verbal debate over multiculturalism in the United States and Canada to civil war in Liberia and Bosnia. Other conflicts between groups are ancient: the European persecution of Jews, “Holy Wars” waged by Christians and Muslims around the Mediterranean, imperialism in South America, and anti-Black racism in northern Africa and elsewhere. Regardless of the intensity of the conflict, the participants justify their behavior to others by appealing to historical injustices, previous territorial boundaries, religious prohibitions, genetic and cultural theories of in-group superiority, or other such ideologies. Prompted by the ubiquitous nature of group-based prejudice and oppression, we developed social dominance theory (see Pratto, in press; Sidanius, 1993; Sidanius & Pratto, 1993a). The theory postulates that societies minimize group conflict by creating consensus on ideologies that promote the superiority of one group over others (see also Sidanius, Pratto, Martin, & Stallworth, 1991). Ideologies that promote or maintain group inequality are the tools that legitimize discrimination. To work smoothly, these ideologies must be widely accepted within a society, appearing as self-apparent truths; hence we call them hierarchy-legitimizing myths.’ By contributing to consensual or

normalized group-based inequality, legitimizing myths help to stabilize oppression. That is, they minimize conflict among groups by indicating how individuals and social institutions should allocate things of positive or negative social value, such as jobs, gold, blankets, government appointments, prison terms, and disease. For example, the ideology of anti-Black racism has been instantiated in personal acts of discrimination, but also in institutional discrimination against African-Americans by banks, public transit authorities, schools, churches, marriage laws, and the penal system. Social Darwinism and meritocracy are examples of other ideologies that imply that some people are not as “good” as others and therefore should be allocated less positive social value than others. Thus far, we have given examples of legitimizing myths that enhance or maintain the degree of social inequality. Other ideologies may serve to attenuate the amount of inequality. For example, the “universal rights of man” and the view summarized by “all humans are God’s children” are inclusive, egalitarian ideologies that explicitly do not divide persons into categories or groups. To the extent that such ideologies are widely shared, there should be less group inequality. There are, then, two varieties of legitimizing myths: hierarchy-enhancing legitimizing myths, which promote greater degrees of social inequality, and hierarchy-attenuating legitimizing myths, which promote greater social equality.

Felicia Pratto, Lisa M. Stallworth, and Bertram F. Malle, Department of Psychology, Stanford University; Jim Sidanius, Department of Psychology, University of California at Los Angeles. We are grateful to a number of people for their diligence and creativity in this research: Erron Al-Amin, Jill Andrassy, Sahr Conway-Lanz, Nick Clements, Magda Escobar, Jack Glaser, Louis Ibarra, Kent Harber, John Hetts, Amy Lee, Johanna Jensen, John Moore, Jenn Pearson, Holly Schaefer, Margaret Shih, Stacey Sinclair, Gayatri Taneja, Jack Wang, and Wes Williams. Bob Altemeyer, Monisha Pasupathi, Vernon Schabert, Michael Mitchell, Steve Gangestad, Corinne Kosmitzki, Ted Goertzel, and three anonymous reviewers provided useful comments on a draft of this article. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Felicia Pratto, Department of Psychology, Jordan Hall, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305-2130.


Given our theoretical postulate that acceptance of legitimizing myths has significant influence on the degree of inequality in societies, it is quite important to understand the factors that lead to the acceptance or rejection of ideologies that promote or attenuate inequality. Social dominance theory postulates that a

1 The term myth is meant to imply that everyone in the society perceives these ideologies as explanations for how the world is—not that they are false (or true). Social dominance theory is meant only to describe the social and psychological processes that act on these ideologies, not to ascertain whether these ideologies are true, fair, moral, or reasonable.



significant factor is an individual-difference variable called social dominance orientation (SDO), or the extent to which one desires that one’s in-group dominate and be superior to outgroups. We consider SDO to be a general attitudinal orientation toward intergroup relations, reflecting whether one generally prefers such relations to be equal, versus hierarchical, that is, ordered along a superior-inferior dimension. The theory postulates that people who are more social-dominance oriented will tend to favor hierarchy-enhancing ideologies and policies, whereas those lower on SDO will tend to favor hierarchy-attenuating ideologies and policies. SDO is thus the central individual-difference variable that predicts a person’s acceptance or rejection of numerous ideologies and policies relevant to group relations. Another way that individuals’ levels of SDO may influence their contribution to social equality or inequality is in the kinds of social roles they take on, particularly, roles that either enhance or attenuate inequality. We thus predict that those who are higher on SDO will become members of institutions and choose roles that maintain or increase social inequality, whereas those who are lower on SDO will belong to institutions and choose roles that reduce inequality. The purpose of the present research was to demonstrate that individual variation in SDO exists and to show that this construct behaves according to the theory outlined above. Specifically, our goals were (a) to develop a measure of SDO that is internally and temporally reliable, (b) to show that SDO is related to the attitudinal and social role variables specified by social dominance theory (predictive validity), (c) to show that the measure is not redundant with other attitude predictors and standard personality variables (discriminant validity), and (d) to show that SDO serves as an orientation in shaping new attitudes.


The first set of hypotheses we tested was derived from social dominance theory and concerned those variables to which SDO should strongly relate, termed predictive validity. The second set of hypotheses, termed discriminant validity, states either that SDO should be independent of other variables or that SDO should have predictive value in addition to the effects of these other variables. We also hypothesized that SDO should relate moderately to certain other personality variables, from which SDO is conceptually distinct. The third set of hypotheses we tested concerns SDO’s power to predict new social attitudes.

Predictive Validity


The world over, men and women hold different roles with regard to the maintenance of hierarchy. Ubiquitously, men serve as military leaders and hold leadership roles in religious, social, political, and cultural spheres (e.g., Brown, 1991, pp. 110, 137). Moreover, men hold more hierarchy-enhancing attitudes, such as support for ethnic prejudice, racism, capitalism, and rightwing political parties, than do women (e.g., Avery, 1988; Eisler & Loye, 1983; Ekehammar & Sidanius, 1982; Shapiro & Mahajan, 1986; Sidanius & Ekehammar, 1980; see review by Si

danius, Cling, & Pratto, 1991). On the basis of these general societal patterns, we have predicted and shown that, on average, men are more social dominance-oriented than women (see Pratto, Sidanius, & Stallworth, 1993; Sidanius, Pratto, & Bobo, in press). We tested this hypothesis with the measure of SDO developed in the present research.

Legitimizing Myths

Ethnic Prejudice

One of the major kinds of ideology concerning relative group status is ethnic prejudice. In the United States, the most longstanding and widely disseminated version of ethnic prejudice is anti-Black racism. Therefore, we predicted that SDO would be strongly related to anti-Black racism in the present U.S. samples. In the United States, a theoretical and empirical debate about how best to measure anti-Black racism has been conducted for some time (e.g., see Bobo, 1983; McConahay, 1986; Sears, 1988;Sniderman&Tetlock, 1986a, 1986b). Social dominance theory merely postulates that SDO should predict whatever ideologies are potent within the culture at the time of measurement. From our theoretical viewpoint, it does not matter whether the basis for racism is fairness (e.g., Kluegel & Smith, 1986), genetic or biblical racial inferiority theories, symbolic racism (e.g., Sears, 1988), or family pathology (e.g., Moynihan, 1965). Any potent ideology that describes groups as unequal and has policy implications is a legitimizing myth and should, therefore, correlate with SDO. During the period the present research was conducted, our subjects’ country was engaged in a war against Iraq, so we also measured anti-Arab racism and expected it to correlate with SDO.


A more general kind of in-group prejudice that can occur in nation-states is nationalism, chauvinism, or patriotism. Kosterman and Feshbach (1989) suggested that procountry feelings (patriotism) can be distinguished from comparative prejudice, that is, that one’s country is better than other countries (nationalism), and as such should dominate other countries (chauvinism). Even so, all three reflect attitudinal bias in favor of the national in-group, and thus we postulated that patriotism, nationalism, and chauvinism would all be significantly related to SDO.

Cultural Elitism

All societies share the idea that one of the defining features of those who belong to their society (are part of the in-group, or are considered by them to be human) is that they are “cultured.” In some societies, including English and American society, an elitist ideology built on the cultured-not cultured distinction postulates that the elite class has “culture” not shared by middle- and working-class people and is therefore more deserving of the “finer things in life.” We term this legitimizing myth cultural elitism, and we expected it to correlate with SDO as well.


We believe that antifemale sexism is a ubiquitous legitimizing myth, although, as with ethnic prejudice, the content basis of


sexist ideology varies widely with religion, cultural history, and technology. In the present U.S. samples, we used scales that assess sexism as the extent to which people believe men and women are “naturally” different and should have different work roles outside and inside the home (Benson & Vincent, 1980; Rombough & Ventimiglia, 1981) and the extent to which people believe that women rather than men can be blamed for unwanted sexual advances such as rape and sexual harassment (Burt, 1980). We predicted that all of these would be positively correlated with SDO, even controlling for subject sex.

Political-Economic Conservatism

Political-economic conservatism is associated with support for capitalism versus socialism (e.g., Eysenck, 1971). Given that capitalism implies that some people and businesses should thrive, while those who are less “competitive” should not, we consider political-economic conservatism to be a hierarchy-enhancing legitimizing myth that should positively correlate with SDO (see also Sidanius & Pratto, 1993b). Other policies supported by conservatives, such as that women should stay home with children and that the USSR must be kept in its place, divide people into groups “deserving” different treatment, so we feel conservatism generally can be viewed as a legitimizing myth. In fact, Wilson’s extensive work on the body of attitudes that make up conservatism shows that a preference for hierarchical social relationships is one of conservatism’s many dimensions (Wilson, 1973, p. 22).

Noblesse Oblige

A hierarchy-attenuating ideology that exists in many cultures is that those with more resources should share them with those who have fewer resources (e.g., the Marxist maxim, “From each according to his [sic] ability, to each according to his need,” and the potlatch custom of the Kwakiutl). The English-American version is called noblesse oblige, which we expected to be negatively correlated with SDO.


Another hierarchy-enhancing ideology is that wealth and other social values are already distributed appropriately, based on the deservingness of the recipients. The Protestant work ethic and just world theory are examples of meritocratic ideologies, so we administered standard measures of belief in the Protestant work ethic and belief in a just world and predicted that they would be positively correlated with SDO. In the United States, attributions for poverty due to laziness or to some other inherent fault in the poor are predicated on the idea that equal opportunity is available to all (Kluegel & Smith, 1986), so we wrote an equal opportunity scale and predicted that it would correlate positively with SDO.

Social Policy Attitudes

According to social dominance theory, individuals who are social dominance oriented will favor social practices that maintain or exacerbate inequality among groups and will oppose social practices that reduce group inequality. The particular social policies that correlate with SDO may vary from society to soci

ety, but we predicted that SDO would relate to support for, or opposition to, the following policies in U.S. samples.

Social Welfare, Civil Rights, and Environmental Policies

We expected SDO to correlate with opposition to social policies that would reduce inequality between U.S. nationals and foreigners or immigrants, rich and middle class or poor, men and women, ethnic groups, heterosexuals and homosexuals, and humans versus other species. As such, we measured our subjects’ attitudes toward a variety of government social programs, racial and sexual discrimination laws, gay and lesbian rights, domination of foreigners, and environmental policies. In several samples we also assessed attitudes toward “interracial dating” and “interracial marriage,” because miscegenation has been central to the U.S. racial policy debate.

Military Policy

Because the military is a symbol of nationalism and can be one of the chief means of domination of one nation over others, we expected SDO to correlate positively with expressed support for military programs and actions.

Punitive Policies

Despite its stated creed to enact equality before the law, the U.S. criminal justice system shows class and ethnic bias at all levels from arrest to plea bargaining to sentencing (e.g., Bienen, Alan, Denno, Allison, & Mills, 1988; General Accounting Office, 1990; Kleck, 1981; Nickerson, Mayo, & Smith, 1986; Paternoster, 1983; Radelet & Pierce, 1985; Reiman, 1990; Sidanius, 1988). As one example, in a review of 1,804 homicide cases in South Carolina, Paternoster (1983) found that in cases where Blacks killed Whites, rather than other Blacks, prosecutors were 40 times more likely to request the death penalty. For this reason, we expected support for “law and order” or punitive policies, particularly the death penalty, to be positively related to SDO (see also Mitchell, 1993; Sidanius, Liu, Pratto, & Shaw, 1994).

Discriminant Validity

Interpersonal Dominance

SDO, or preference for unequal relationships among categories of people, is conceptually distinguishable from the common personality conception of interpersonal dominance, which concerns the extent to which individuals like to be in charge and are efficacious. For example, people who score high on the California Personality Inventory (CPI) Dominance scale are confident, assertive, dominant, and task oriented, whereas people who score low are unassuming and nonforceful (Gough, 1987, p. 6). People who score high on the Jackson Personality Research Form (JPRF) Dominance scale attempt to control their environments and influence or direct other people; they are forceful, decisive, authoritative, and domineering (Jackson, 1965). We tested this theoretical distinction between social and task or interpersonal dominance by using the CPI and JPRF Dominance subscales in several samples reported here. We predicted that SDO would not correlate with these two measures.



There is clearly some theoretical similarity in the effects of social dominance theory’s SDO construct and authoritarian personality theory’s authoritarian construct (see Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, & Sanford, 1950). High-SDO people and authoritarian personalities are theorized to be relatively conservative, racist, ethnocentric, and prejudiced, and they should show little empathy for lower status others. Our conception of SDO, however, differs from classical authoritarianism in several respects. First, classical authoritarian theorists viewed authoritarianism as an aberrant and pathological condition and as a form of ego-defense against feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability (see also Frenkel-Brunswik, 1948, 1949). SDO, however, is not conceived of in clinical terms, as an aberrant personality type, or as a form of ego-defense. Rather, SDO is conceived of as a “normal” human propensity on which people vary. Second, authoritarian personality theory emphasized the sources of authoritarianism as springing from psychodynamic processes. Specifically, Adorno et al. (1950) postulated that strict and harsh parental styles would provoke conflicts between the child and parents that would be “unresolved.” As a way of resolving these, the child as an adult would submit to authorities and be intolerant of those who would not. In contrast, we theorize that such a personal history is unnecessary to developing a relatively high SDO tendency. Rather, both temperament and socialization probably influence one’s level of SDO. Third and most important, whereas authoritarianism is primarily conceived as a desire for individual dominance resulting from experiences with authority figures, SDO is regarded as the desire that some categories of people dominate others. Because the two constructs are defined differently, measurements of each should not be highly correlated. Given that authoritarianism should predict many of the same variables we postulate SDO should predict, it is important for us to show that SDO has explanatory value in addition to authoritarianism. We tested the “marginal utility” of the SDO construct by testing whether correlations between SDO and support for legitimizing myths and policies are significant after partialing out authoritarianism.


Political-economic conservatism serves as a legitimizing myth in our theory, and thus we expect it to correlate positively with SDO. Conservatism is also a well-known robust predictor of social and political attitudes (e.g., Eysenck & Wilson, 1978; Wilson, 1973). To show that SDO has utility in addition to political-economic conservatism, we tested whether SDO substantially correlated with social attitudes after partialing out conservatism.

Standard Personality Variables

Because we think our concept of SDO is a yet unstudied personality dimension, we expected it to be independent of other standard personality variables such as self-esteem and the BigFive personality dimensions: Extraversion, Agreeableness, Openness, Neuroticism, and Conscientiousness (see Costa & MacRae, 1985; John, 1990, for reviews).

Empathy, Altruism, Communality, and Tolerance

People who are highly empathic with others would seem to be less prejudiced and discriminatory against out-groups. Thus, it is reasonable to expect a general concern for other people to be negatively correlated with SDO. Similarly, any general prosocial orientation might mitigate prejudiced feelings and behaviors toward out-group members, so altruism should be negatively correlated with SDO. Furthermore, people who are quite inclusive in their definitions of what constitutes an in-group should be less able to discriminate against out-groups, so we expected communality to be negatively correlated with SDO. And finally, because tolerance is the antithesis of prejudice, we might expect that a general measure of tolerance would be negatively correlated with a general desire for in-group superiority. We used Davis’ (1983) multidimensional empathy scale, Super and Nevill’s (1985) altruism subscale, the Personal Attribute Questionnaire (PAQ) Communality scale (Spence, Helmreich, & Stapp, 1974), and the Jackson Personality Inventory (JPI) Tolerance scale (Jackson, 1976) to test these hypotheses. If SDO has merit as a new personality variable, none of these correlations should be very high.



We examined data from 13 samples to test the predictive and discriminant validity and reliability of our measure of SDO. Our logic in using this large number of samples is to examine statistically significant results that are reliable across samples. We organized the results by topic, but we report the results in each sample so that the reader can see the magnitude of effects in each sample and the stability of the results across samples. At the end of the Results section, we provide a summary of the results in the form of meta-analyses.

Data Collection

Generally, subjects were college students who participated in a study called “Social Attitudes” for partial course credit. All of their responses were anonymous and confidential, and they completed batteries of self-administered questionnaires. Subjects in Samples 2, 3b, 5,6,8, 9, and 13 spent about 1 hr in our laboratory completing the questionnaires. The experimenter described the study as designed to measure students’ social attitudes and personal preferences. Subjects in Samples 1 and 13 completed the SDO scale after participating in unrelated experiments, and subjects in the remaining samples completed the SDO scale and follow-up scales in two consecutive mass-testing sessions normally conducted on subject pool participants. All subjects completed a demographic background sheet and our 14-item SDO scale intermixed with related items, a Nationalism scale based on Kosterman and Feshbach’s (1989) measure, along with other attitude or experience measures, each having their own instructions and response scales. We also administered some standard personality or attitude scales according to the instructions of their authors. In several samples we also administered ideological (legitimizing myths) or policy attitude items on a questionnaire entitled “Policy Issues Questionnaire.”



SDO In previous archival studies, we measured proxies for SDO using items dealing with equality from the National Election Study or the S6 Conservatism scale (see Sidanius, 1976). In developing the present measure of SDO, we tested over 70 items whose content we felt related to SDO or to constructs one can define as separate but that might be considered adjacent to SDO (e.g., nationalism and prestige-striving), following Loevinger’s (1957) suggestion about scale construction. However, on the basis of our desire to develop a simple, unidimensional scale that is balanced, we selected 14 items from this extensive questionnaire as the SDO scale. The selected items concerned the belief that some people are inherently superior or inferior to others and approval of unequal group relationships (see items in Appendix A). The 14-item SDO scale was balanced in that half the items indicated approval of inequality and half indicated approval of equality (see items in Appendix A). We assume that these items tap a latent construct and so we are interested in the relationships between the scale mean and other measures rather than relationships between individual SDO items and other measures. SDO is an attitudinal orientation, so instructions read, “Which of the following objects or statements do you have a positive or negative feeling towards? Beside each object or statement, place a number from’ 1? to ‘7’ which represents the degree of your positive or negative feeling.” The scale was labeled very positive (7), positive (6), slightly positive (5), neither positive nor negative (4), slightly negative (3), negative (2), and very negative (1). The order of the SDO items and the filler items differed among Form A, completed by Samples 1, 2, 3, and 4; Form B, completed by Samples 5, 6, 7, 8, and 12; and Form C, completed by Samples 9, 10, and 11. The format and instructions for the three forms were identical, and we saw no evidence that results pertinent to reliability or validity issues differed across the questionnaire form. Subsequent to the present research, we have used just the 14 items on a questionnaire and found reliability coefficients of .90 and predictive validity results similar to those reported below.

Political-Economic Conservatism

Some of the standard scales assessing political-economic conservatism actually measure individuals’ support for particular social policies (e.g., the C-scale, Wilson & Patterson, 1968). Because we wished to measure political-economic conservatism separately from policy attitudes, and because we wanted to use a measure that should not vary with time and place, we used a self-identified liberal-conservative measure in all samples. On the demographic background sheet, the political-economic conservatism question read, “Use one of the following numbers to indicate your political views in the accompanying categories.” Below these instructions was a scale labeled very liberal (1), liberal (2), slightly liberal (3), middle of the road (4), slightly conservative (5), conservative (6), and very conservative (7) and a blank next to each type of issue: “foreign policy issues,” “economic issues,” and “social issues.” Political-economic conservatism was the mean of self-ratings on these three items.

Authoritarianism Authoritarianism research has been fraught with measurement difficulties. After surveying the authoritarianism measurement literature, we decided to administer two rather different measures of authoritarianism, both of which are balanced: the Right Wing Authoritarian (RWA) scale by Altemeyer (1981) and Goertzel’s (1987) bipolar personality measure. Goertzel (1987) intended his adjective checklist to measure the personality rather than the ideological aspect of authoritarianism, but did show that it correlates with attitudes toward policies falling along toughness and consistency dimensions. Altemeyer’s (1981) scale is the only other internally reliable measure of authoritarianism that is close to the original conception of authoritarianism, including conventionalism, authoritarian submission, and authoritarian aggression (see Duckitt, 1989, for a review).

Original Legitimizing Myths and Policy Attitudes

The consent form and instructions informed subjects that their opinions and preferences toward a variety of ideas, kinds of people, events, and so forth would be measured. On our “Policy Issues Questionnaire” we included items from various legitimizing myth or policy attitude scales. Items from each scale were interspersed throughout the questionnaire. Next to each item was a 1-7 scale, and the instructions read, “Which of the following objects, events, or statements do you have a positive or negative feeling towards? Please indicate your feelings by circling the appropriate number alongside each item. Use one of the following responses. Remember, your first reaction is best. Work as quickly as you can.” The scale points were labeled very negative (1), negative (2), slightly negative (3), uncertain or neutral (A), slightly positive (5), positive (6), and very positive (7). Items from the original legitimizing myths and policy attitude scales were selected for their content and for their internal reliability across samples. These scales are shown in Appendix B. Several personality measures were used as well; these are described in the Method section.



Although our 1,952 subjects were college students, they represent some diversity in terms of sex, ethnicity, and income groups, coming from public and private universities in California. Demographic information about the samples is shown in Table 1.

Samples and Procedures

Sample 1 (spring 1990) consisted of 98 University of California at Berkeley undergraduates who completed the CPI Dominance, Flexibility, and Capacity for Status subscales (Gough, 1987), the JPRF Dominance subscale (Jackson, 1965), the JPI Tolerance subscale (Jackson, 1976), and the Rosenberg (1965) Self-Esteem Scale (RSE). Sample 2 (fall and winter 1990-1991) consisted of 463 San Jose State University (SJSU) undergraduates who completed the CPI and JPRF Dominance subscales; Mirels and Garrett’s (1971) Protestant Work Ethic Scale; the Just World Scale (Rubin & Peplau, 1975); the fourfactor Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI), which measures empathy (Davis, 1983); a number of policy attitude measures; and some demographic descriptors.


Table 1 Description of Samples


n Age range % men % women

% Euro-American % Asian-American % Hispanic % Black % Arab-American