Social Dominance

Social dominance is a personality trait that measures how much someone supports the idea of social hierarchy as the best way to organize society. People high in social dominance have a strong desire — perhaps even obsession — with their in-group being superior to allegedly inferior out-groups.

Social dominators tend to believe in a “wolves and sheep” moral philosophy, where it’s better to be the wolf and attack everyone else first. They prefer hierarchical group structures, and they prefer to be atop them. Those high on the social dominance orientation (SDO) scale tend to be ambitious, driven, and power hungry, as well as low in empathy and high in callousness — a dangerous combination, especially in positions of public trust.

Social dominance is highly correlated with conservative political views, and with opposition to policies that promote equality. It’s also co-occurrent with bigotry and all forms of -ism, from racism to sexism to nationalism to all the rest. It’s a form of collective narcissism, that relates to right-wing authoritarianism in a complex way we are still trying to understand. Bob Altemeyer classified social dominators as one of the three primary types of authoritarian — the type that feels entitled to control others’ lives. They believe “might makes right.”

Social Dominance Orientation Scale Diagnostic Tool

Research in the early 90s produced this short set of questions that could predict social dominance with a high degree of accuracy. A 7-point scale, SDO measures low to moderate social dominance levels between scores 1 and 4. Above 4, you’re looking at someone who is going to tend to be highly socially dominant. They are also going to be likely to be less open to new experience, more self-centered, and more scornful of low-status groups.

Think someone you know might be a social dominator? See if you can get them to take this quiz…

  1. Some groups of people are just more worthy than others.
  2. In getting what you want, it is sometimes necessary to use force against other groups.
  3. It’s OK if some groups have more of a chance in life than others.
  4. To get ahead in life, it is sometimes necessary to step on other groups.
  5. If certain groups stayed in their place, we would have fewer problems.
  6. It’s probably a good thing that certain groups are at the top and other groups are at the bottom.
  7. Inferior groups should stay in their place.
  8. Sometimes other groups must be kept in their place.
  9. It would be good if groups could be equal. (reverse-scored)
  10. Group equality should be our ideal. (reverse-scored)
  11. All groups should be given an equal chance in life. (reverse-scored)
  12. We should do what we can to equalize conditions for different groups. (reverse-scored)
  13. Increased social equality is beneficial to society. (reverse-scored)
  14. We would have fewer problems if we treated people more equally. (reverse-scored)
  15. We should strive to make incomes as equal as possible. (reverse-scored)
  16. No group should dominate in society. (reverse-scored)