Saturday, October 04, 2003


One of the “hot” concepts in the academic psychology literature at the moment is a concept known as “Social Dominance Orientation” (SDO). This is said to be a newly discovered personality variable that predicts both conservatism and racism -- and generally shows conservatives to be a very bad lot.

The whole “theory” behind SDO is however breathtakingly naive and shows a typically Leftist ignorance of history. And calling its chief measuring instrument (the SDO scale) a personality scale is just amazingly dishonest. Instead of asking people what they DO (which is what a personality scale does) the SDO scale asks them what they THINK. It is, in other words, an attitude scale -- not a personality scale. So its ability to predict scores on other attitude scales (of conservatism and racism) is considerably facilitated by that. Attitude scales often correlate with other attitude scales, but getting correlations between what people DO and what they THINK has been known to be difficult ever since the famous study by La Piere in 1934 (La Piere showed that most restaurateurs who said that they would NOT serve an Asian in their restaurant generally DID serve Asians when Asians actually turned up as potential customers). The connection between attitudes and behaviour is generally far from simple and direct.

And what do the statements in the SDO scale say? As Jost & Thompson (2000) have pointed out, fully half of its items specifically ask people whether or not they accept social inequality (Sample items: “It would be good if all groups could be equal” and “We should strive to make incomes more equal”). But anyone who knows the first thing about politics will be aware that “equality” is a great mantra of the Left and that conservatives view the whole idea as absurd. Leftists believe that in some mystical way ”all men are equal” and conservatives reject equality as an unattainable myth. Ever since the Pilgrim Fathers, attempts to found societies based on equality have quickly degenerated into pervasive and permanent INequality. So the SDO theory that conservatives reject equality is laughably unoriginal. So it is no wonder that the SDO scale predicts conservatism in other senses. Fully half of the items in the scale relate to what has always been a core conservative belief. The correlation between SDO and conservatism is then an “artifact” (a product of the research design, not new information about the world)

And SDO has also been found to predict the tendency to express racial preferences (e.g. Heaven & St. Quintin, 2003). So let’s look at what the other half of the items in the SDO scale say: They say things like: “Inferior groups should stay in their place”, “Superior groups should dominate inferior groups” and “Some groups of people are just more worthy than others”. So people who believe that there are inferior and superior groups also believe that there are inferior and inferior races. How astounding! Since races are groups, the finding that the SDO scale predicts racism is in fact LOGICALLY ENTAILED. It parades as an empirical finding but it is not. It tells us nothing new about the world. It is merely something that is true by definition. What a fraud!

Heaven, P.C.L. & St. Quintin, D. (2003) Personality factors predict racial prejudice. Personality & Individual Differences 34, 625-634.
Jost, J. T. & Thompson, E. P. (2000) Group-based dominance and opposition to equality as independent predictors of self-esteem, ethnocentrism, and social policy attitudes among African Americans and European Americans. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 36, 209-232.
La Piere, R. (1934) Attitudes and actions. Social Forces, 13, 230-237
Pratto, F., Sidanius, J., Stallworth, L.M., & Malle, B.F. (1994). Social dominance orientation: A personality variable predicting social and political attitudes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 741-763.


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