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Social Dominance Orientation: A
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Social and Political Attitudes
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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.

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 num-
ber of social and political ideologies that support group-based hierarchy (e.g., meritocracy and rac-
ism) 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, com-
munality, 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 multicul-
turalism in the United States and Canada to civil war in Liberia
and Bosnia. Other conflicts between groups are ancient: the Eu-
ropean 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 else-
where. Regardless of the intensity of the conflict, the partici-
pants justify their behavior to others by appealing to historical
injustices, previous territorial boundaries, religious prohibi-
tions, 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 cre-
ating 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 so-
ciety, appearing as self-apparent truths; hence we call them hi-
erarchy-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 ide-
ologies may serve to attenuate the amount of inequality. For
example, the “universal rights of man” and the view summa-
rized by “all humans are God’s children” are inclusive, egali-
tarian ideologies that explicitly do not divide persons into cate-
gories 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 legiti-
mizing myths, which promote greater degrees of social inequal-
ity, and hierarchy-attenuating legitimizing myths, which pro-
mote greater social equality.

Felicia Pratto, Lisa M. Stallworth, and Bertram F. Malle, Department
of Psychology, Stanford University; Jim Sidanius, Department of Psy-
chology, 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 legitimiz-
ing 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 per-
ceives these ideologies as explanations for how the world is—not that
they are false (or true). Social dominance theory is meant only to de-
scribe the social and psychological processes that act on these ideologies,
not to ascertain whether these ideologies are true, fair, moral, or



significant factor is an individual-difference variable called so-
cial dominance orientation (SDO), or the extent to which one
desires that one’s in-group dominate and be superior to out-
groups. 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 postu-
lates 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-atten-
uating ideologies and policies. SDO is thus the central individ-
ual-difference variable that predicts a person’s acceptance or re-
jection of numerous ideologies and policies relevant to group

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 en-
hance 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 con-
struct behaves according to the theory outlined above. Specifi-
cally, our goals were (a) to develop a measure of SDO that is
internally and temporally reliable, (b) to show that SDO is re-
lated to the attitudinal and social role variables specified by so-
cial 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


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 re-
gard 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 right-
wing political parties, than do women (e.g., Avery, 1988; Eisler
& Loye, 1983; Ekehammar & Sidanius, 1982; Shapiro & Ma-
hajan, 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 long-
standing 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. sam-
ples. In the United States, a theoretical and empirical debate
about how best to measure anti-Black racism has been con-
ducted for some time (e.g., see Bobo, 1983; McConahay, 1986;
Sears, 1988;Sniderman&Tetlock, 1986a, 1986b). Social domi-
nance theory merely postulates that SDO should predict what-
ever ideologies are potent within the culture at the time of mea-
surement. 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. Koster-
man 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 (nation-
alism), and as such should dominate other countries (chauvin-
ism). Even so, all three reflect attitudinal bias in favor of the
national in-group, and thus we postulated that patriotism, na-
tionalism, and chauvinism would all be significantly related to

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 mid-
dle- and working-class people and is therefore more deserving
of the “finer things in life.” We term this legitimizing myth cul-
tural 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 as-
sess 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 un-
wanted 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-en-
hancing legitimizing myth that should positively correlate with
SDO (see also Sidanius & Pratto, 1993b). Other policies sup-
ported by conservatives, such as that women should stay home
with children and that the USSR must be kept in its place, di-
vide 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 hierar-
chical social relationships is one of conservatism’s many dimen-
sions (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 nega-
tively 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 ideol-
ogies, 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 main-
tain or exacerbate inequality among groups and will oppose so-
cial 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 poli-
cies 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 pro-
grams, 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; Si-
danius, 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, prosecu-
tors 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,

Discriminant Validity

Interpersonal Dominance

SDO, or preference for unequal relationships among catego-
ries of people, is conceptually distinguishable from the common
personality conception of interpersonal dominance, which con-
cerns the extent to which individuals like to be in charge and are
efficacious. For example, people who score high on the Califor-
nia 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 envi-
ronments 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 in-
terpersonal 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, Fren-
kel-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 concep-
tion 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 vul-
nerability (see also Frenkel-Brunswik, 1948, 1949). SDO, how-
ever, is not conceived of in clinical terms, as an aberrant person-
ality type, or as a form of ego-defense. Rather, SDO is conceived
of as a “normal” human propensity on which people vary. Sec-
ond, authoritarian personality theory emphasized the sources
of authoritarianism as springing from psychodynamic pro-
cesses. 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 re-
solving these, the child as an adult would submit to authorities
and be intolerant of those who would not. In contrast, we theo-
rize 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 con-
ceived as a desire for individual dominance resulting from ex-
periences 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 au-
thoritarianism. 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 po-
litical-economic conservatism, we tested whether SDO substan-
tially correlated with social attitudes after partialing out

Standard Personality Variables

Because we think our concept of SDO is a yet unstudied per-
sonality dimension, we expected it to be independent of other
standard personality variables such as self-esteem and the Big-
Five 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 pro-
social orientation might mitigate prejudiced feelings and behav-
iors toward out-group members, so altruism should be nega-
tively 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 neg-
atively 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 corre-
lations 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. Sub-
jects 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 atti-
tudes and personal preferences. Subjects in Samples 1 and 13
completed the SDO scale after participating in unrelated exper-
iments, 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 National-
ism 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 adminis-
tered 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




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 de-
veloping 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 ba-
sis of our desire to develop a simple, unidimensional scale that
is balanced, we selected 14 items from this extensive question-
naire 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 Ap-
pendix 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

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 state-
ment, 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

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, com-
pleted 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 reli-
ability coefficients of .90 and predictive validity results similar
to those reported below.

Political-Economic Conservatism

Some of the standard scales assessing political-economic con-
servatism actually measure individuals’ support for particular
social policies (e.g., the C-scale, Wilson & Patterson, 1968). Be-
cause 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 con-
servatism 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), lib-
eral (2), slightly liberal (3), middle of the road (4), slightly con-
servative (5), conservative (6), and very conservative (7) and a
blank next to each type of issue: “foreign policy issues,” “eco-
nomic issues,” and “social issues.” Political-economic conser-
vatism was the mean of self-ratings on these three items.


Authoritarianism research has been fraught with measure-
ment difficulties. After surveying the authoritarianism mea-
surement literature, we decided to administer two rather
different measures …

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