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Social dominance orientation (SDO), is a personality variable which predicts social and political attitudes. 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.

SDO personality[]

A 'high SDO' person will agree with statements such as "Sometimes other groups must be kept in their place" and "It's probably a good thing that certain groups are at the top and other groups at the bottom." As intergroup dominance, SDO is "distinct from interpersonal dominance" according to Pratto and Sidanius.

Social dominance theory[]

SDO was first proposed by Jim Sidanius and Felicia Pratto as part of their Social Dominance Theory (SDT), which proposes that societies can reduce group conflict using legitimizing myths, which allow intergroup prejudice and inequality.

Group-based or 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."

This conception of SDO as including elements of personal dominance runs somewhat counter to Sidanius & Pratto's ideas. 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.

Early Development of SDO[]

John Duckitt has suggested a model of attitude development for SDO, suggesting that unaffectionate socialisation in childhood causes a tough-minded attitude. The world is then viewed as a competitive place, similar to the jungle of the evolutionary past. 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.

Connection with Right Wing Authoritarianism[]

SDO is commonly deployed with the Right Wing Authoritarianism Scale (RWA). SDO correlates with Right Wing Authoritarian and together they are strong predictors of many forms of prejudice, such as sexism, racism and anti-homosexual attitudes.

See also[]

Right Wing Authoritarianism


  • Sidanius, Jim and Pratto, Felicia (2001). Social Dominance: An Intergroup Theory of Social Hierarchy and Oppression. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521805406
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