Social Dominance Theory: Meaning and Significance

Social dominance theory sheds new light on the dynamics of authority and status in the business world. Consider the connection between employees' social dominance alignment and the influence tactics those individuals use or respond well to as an example of the asymmetrical effect between hierarchical work environments.

What does Social Dominance Theory Explain?

'Caste Stability and Perpetuation' is a subfield of intersectionality research in social psychology that examines the characteristics of social hierarchies reminiscent of caste systems. The theory posits that inequalities between groups are maintained through institutionalized exclusion, aggregated individual discrimination, and behavioral asymmetry. According to this theory, privileged intergroup behaviors are justified and legitimized by pervasive cultural ideologies (also called "legitimizing myths"). Social dominance orientation (S.D.O.) scales were created for data collection and hypothesis testing. Support for group-based dominance and opposition to equality regardless of the ingroup's power structure are both indicators of acceptance and desire for a group-based social hierarchy.

Organizational Structure

According to the social dominance theory (S.D.T.), racism, objectification, nationalism, and disparities manifest the same propensity to establish power relationships based on group membership. S.D.T. also asserts that forces easily illustrated by evolutionary psychology but that instead provide high survival value cause the cultural tiers described by various theories of stratification to be hierarchically organized (for example, an older white male). Androcracy dictates that men should come to the fore in positions of power, but instead, authority is based on the premise that men are implicitly superior to women. As Putnam's law of intensifying incongruence comes into play, it becomes more likely that a member of the hegemonic group will be given a position with much power.

Forced Discrimination and the Institutionalization of Discrimination

According to social dominance theory, stable inequalities are partly preserved by applying disproportionate force against subordinate groups. For instance, the U.S. has imprisoned foreign nationals in conditions that would be against U.S. law if applied to U.S. citizens as part of its "war on terror" (and may be illegal under International Humanitarian Law). The criminal justice system is another example of the systematic use of force that, in many societies, unfairly targets and primarily affects men of lower socioeconomic status (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). Systematic racism in distributing valuable resources is another important mechanism by which dominance is maintained. As an illustration, members of dominant groups are more likely to receive preferential treatment from the public and private institutions, like schools, banks, hospitals, and workplaces. Discrimination is based on education.

Legitimizing Myths

Legitimizing myths are persuasive cultural ideologies that mask or normalize the use of violence and discrimination. Myths that legitimize a society's beliefs are well-known among its members and have deep roots in cultural cosmology. Throughout history, legitimizing myths have evolved to provide context for and support various social structure elements, reflecting and reproducing cultural norms and values. U.S. territorial expansion in the 1800s was justified by ideas like "manifest destiny" and "savage" stereotypes of Native Americans. However, today, with America's self-image as the world's preeminent egalitarian democracy in contrast to Europe's colonial powers, American officials use the term "democratizing" rather than "colonizing" to describe America's occupation of other nations in the 20th and 21st centuries.

War, pre-emptive strikes, arms build-ups, violations of national sovereignty, terrorism, and violations of International Humanitarian Law can currently be justified by legitimizing myths of national security, national interest, national liberation, or religious purity, along with stereotypical images of the enemy as barbaric, especially in comparison to images of one's nation and allies as virtuous. It is important to remember that even "liberal" legitimizing myths can be used to legitimize the use of force rather than merely warfare; for example, former U.S. President George W. Bush cited the oppression of women by the Taliban as one of the many reasons for invading Afghanistan.

Social Dominance Orientation (S.D.O.)

A "social dominance orientation" is the tendency to lead a group. People may like or dislike these hierarchies, and social dominance orientation scales appear to be strongly correlated with various forms of group prejudice across nations (including sexism, sexual orientation prejudice, and racism, but instead nationalism). Tolerance, egalitarianism, universalism, and humanitarianism, but not support for power-reduction policies like human rights, are inversely related to social dominance (e.g., Pratto, Sidanius, & Levin, 2006). Compared to Americans, those with a high social dominance orientation are more likely to prioritize U.S. desires over noncombatants' lives (Pratto & Glasford, 2008).

Possible Social Consequences

"Different means unequal" is a common saying when talking about theories of social dominance. The inequality may be subtle or glaringly obvious, but this saying is generally accurate. While the specific ways these characteristics affect social standing may vary from one culture to the next, the fact they do is universal. Example: The research shows that in every society, one gender plays a more important role than the other. Although typically, the male gender holds this position, this is not always the case. In some Pacific Islander, ancient Native American, and African societies, the female gender traditionally holds the highest social position. However, the existence of a dominant gender cannot be denied.


According to Wilson and Liu, interethnic attitudes are formed by a society's institutional framework and the spiritual traditions, theories, and ideologies that arise from trying to understand a group's position within that schema and its relationships with other groups. An experiment found that "strength of gender identification moderated the gender-social hegemony orientation relationship," casting doubt on the interpolation hypothesis by suggesting that group identification increases dominance orientation in males but decreases it in females.

In response to the idea that S.D.O. measures are aware of specific identity context, Pratto, Sidanius, and Levin wrote, "Methodologically, it makes no sense to evaluate the S.D.O. levels of female members of paramilitary groups to those of male social workers or, less substantially, to draw comparisons between the S.D.O. levels of men who recognize female sexual orientation roles and those of women who recognize male gender roles." The S.D.T. creators did not intend for the idea that one sexual preference is more likely to be S.D.O. due to its advancement to imply that gender inequality and dominance cannot be addressed. The theory offers novel ways to overcome these social norms.


According to social dominance theory, the least repressive peace that traditions can achieve is one in which disparity is reduced, and the liberty of all segments is acknowledged are recognized in order to obtain their requirements.