Sidanius Pratto 1999

From Projecting Power

Chapter 1: Theoretical Background[edit]

Problem: While various work has been done to understand aspects of intergroup hostility (e.g., race, class, gender discrimination), little work has been done to analyze these factors as a whole.

Psychological Theories[edit]

  • These models focus on:
    • Personality dynamics
    • Values of individuals, anxieties, and beliefs
    • Information processing of individuals
  • All have been influenced by Freud and his insight that people are driven by subconscious and nonrational drives

Implication: scholars began to think about stereotypes as manifestations of motivations rather than rationally held political beliefs.

The Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis[edit]

  • Aggression (the intention to harm others purposefully) happens because people are frustrated that they have not achieved their goals
  • Being aggressive at the source of the problem is dangerous because it is usually more powerful than us (your boss who just fired you; the state for taxing you). We instead direct our anger at subordinate groups.
    • Ex. periodic increases in lynchings of U.S. Black people followed periods of economic stress in the South
  • However, more work suggests discrimination happens all the time and is not solely linked to frustration.
  • Moreover, the F-A Hypothesis assumes that aggression is unusual rather than a normal part of social life.

Authoritarian Personality Theory (APT)[edit]

  • Posits authoritarianism is a personality syndrome that happens when children are mistreated and must be completely obedient to receive any affection from their parents
  • This environment made people dislike the weak, think of relationships as dominance and submission, and glorify the strong
  • Findings:
    • Those who were prejudiced against one ethnic minority tended to be prejudiced against others
    • Authoritarians tended to have conservative political-economic views and high levels of ethnocentrism
  • This theory has been criticized! 1) Measurement problem: people may show agreement bias and agree with whatever question you give them; 2) Only picks up conservative authoritarianism, not liberal authoritarianism
  • To correct for 2), the dogmatism scale was invented. With this scale, it still shows that people on the right have higher levels of authoritarianism than people on the left.
  • APT claims authoritarianism is a personality syndrome, but connections between childrearing practices and the actual syndrome are scarce. There is also no evidence that authoritarians are more psychologically encumbered than others.

Psychological Uncertainty and Anxiety Models[edit]

  • “Fear of uncertainty is the central psychological motivation underlying conservatism” (Sidanius and Pratto, Chapter 1).
  • Terror management theory: because human beings can anticipate the fact that they will die, they experience existential terror and ennui. To fight against this, they create worldviews to tell themselves they are meaningful (ex. Self-esteem is a buffer against anxiety).
    • Minority groups have a harder time bolstering themselves against existential ennui than majority groups (PD: Is this true? Think of Durkheim study of suicides in France).
  • TMT predicts that encountering someone with a different worldview threatens our buffer against existentialism around death. We become anxious, needing to convert them, exterminate them or assimilate to them.

Value and Value Conflict Theories[edit]

  • Realized that there was little cross-cultural consensus on what liberal and conservative meant
  • Tried to map these beliefs on more general values; classified beliefs as a tradeoff between equality and freedom
    • New iteration focused on tradeoff between humanitarianism/egalitarianism and individualism/Protestant work ethic
  • Argued most White Americans are ambivalent towards Black Americans. Black Americans are “good targets for humanitarianism but bad examples of individual achievement” (Sidanius and Pratto, Chapter 1).
    • Showed that Pro-Black scale correlated positively with the Humanitarian Scale but negatively with Protestant Ethic (PE) scale
    • Anti-Black scale correlated positively with PE scale but negatively with Humanitarian scale

Social-Cognitive Approach to Stereotyping[edit]

  • Social stereotypes are a result of “normal” information processing
    • Humans have a predisposition to seek patterns in events
  • People perceive unusual or negative traits and unusual people (to them, ethnicities different than them) as going together

The Facile Activation of Social Stereotypes[edit]

  • Once learned, stereotypes are easily facilely activated
    • Learning someone’s gender leads people to assume things about their hobbies and profession

Stereotypes as Causal Explanations[edit]

  • When people ask themselves “who would perform X role?” they are likely to use a stereotype they already know as a causal explanation
  • When members of a group disproportionately fill a role or have a trait, individuals assume all members of that group have that trait or role

The Contextual Sensitivity of Stereotypes[edit]

  • How likely someone is to develop stereotypes is context dependent
    • Ex. Those in power (more likely to be dominants) are less likely to have to pay attention to subordinates and even more likely to stereotype

The Tenacity and Self-Fulfilling Character of Social Stereotypes[edit]

  • Stereotypes are resistant to attempts to change them and last a long time
  • Providing counter examples (ex. token women engineer) can cause more stereotyping, not less. People are more likely to attribute that token’s success to their individual meritorious qualities in spite of group identity
  • Being a token can result in underperformance of the token because of self-consciousness
  • Stereotypes can bias memory so one recalls stereotype-confirming information or filter new information intake to only stereotype-confirming information
  • Critique: research has done little to figure out how institutional discrimination occurs by focusing on individual cognitive processes

Social-Psychological Theories[edit]

  • Focus on the individual in the context of their group and social community, the norms they have learned through dominant cultural narratives, and someone’s desire to fit in as a member of a group.

Socialization and Social Learning Theories[edit]

  • Assumes the reason people are racist or otherwise discriminatory is because they have been taught to act this way since they were children

Modern Racism Theories[edit]

  • Asserts blatant and extreme forms of racism against Black Americans happened in the past (and largely do not happen now). Now, more subtle and indirect forms are used.
  • These subtle forms are called residual racism:
    • Learned emotional antipathy towards Black Americans
    • Cognitively driven stereotyping
    • Old fashioned racism has been replaced by symbolic racism
  • Principle-implementation gap: contradiction between whites’ support for racial equality as a principle but opposition to policies that would increase racial equality
  • Critiques:
    • Symbolic racism is just measuring political ideology
    • Symbolic racism is old-fashioned racism in disguise
    • Overlap between symbolic racism and the attitudes it is purported to predict

Realistic Group Conflict Theory[edit]

  • Intergroup discrimination and conflict results from groups being locked in real conflict over resources that are material or symbolic. This conflict is imagined to be zero-sum.
  • Makes two assumptions the authors criticize:
    • Real groups actually exist, and have a shared history and fate
    • Groups truly believe themselves to be in a zero-sum game
  • Authors argue that these conditions are sufficient to produce discrimination but not necessary

Social Identity Theory (SIT)[edit]

  • Humans have a desire for positive social identity. Even if it unclear what membership means or what the group is (such as the imagined groupings in Tafjel’s lab experiments), people will make up meanings to signal their group’s superiority (and therefore, their superiority). They allocate more to people in their groups than outgroups.
  • The more stable boundaries between groups are, the more discrimination happens between groups.
  • Four problems with SIT
    • Views social identity as the motivator for intergroup discrimination
      • Implies those who strongly identify with their ingroup are most likely to discriminate in favor of their group (contested findings in the literature)
    • Does not address differential social power between groups
    • Does not address outgroup favoritism
      • Members of low-status groups sometimes prefer high-status outgroups
    • Primarily focuses on preference towards the ingroup rather than denigration of the outgroup, even though many historical examples focus on harming other groups as opposed to lifting up one’s own.

Social-Structured and Elite Theories[edit]

  • Elite theories believe societies are hierarchical and oligarchically organized

Group Position Theory[edit]

  • When groups fight, the dominant group will seek to maintain power over the subordinate group(s). They do this by promoting policies and changing (or maintaining) public opinion to support them.


  • If you want a refresher on Marx, there are better online sources than this article (not to cast aspersions --- the article just assumes you’re familiar with Marx).
  • Capitalist societies are hierarchically organized:
    • Those who have power over the means of production take control (economically, socially) over those who actually labor to produce things of value. Those in power are always able to construct trades such that they will benefit at the expense of those who work for them.
    • The economic ruling class rules over the state, entrenching this inequality.

The Neoclassical Elite Approach[edit]

  • Primary conflict: masses and elites
  • Believed that democracy and group-based social equality were unachievable
  • All social systems were inherently undemocratic, ruled by a small elite who justified their disproportionate power
  • Pareto: distinguished between governing and non-governing elites
    • Argued that power is based on four factors
      • Social heterogeneity: conflict between the ruled and those that rule.
      • Interest: goals individuals want to achieve (ex. wealth, power, desirable mates)
      • Residues: “psychological dispositions occupying an intermediate status between human sentiments and observable expressions” (Sidanius and Pratto, Chapter 1). It includes knowable and unknowable things.
        • Class I residues: instinct for combinations

Essentially openness. Desire for adventure, inventiveness, progressivism

        • Class II residues: preservation of aggregates

Norm-following. Upholding traditions. Respecting institutions like the church.

      • Derivations: logical justifications that elites give regarding them ruling even if their real motives are sentiment-motivated
        • Ex. divine right of kings
  • Authors contend that an argument with this class of theories is that elites rule because of their individually virtuous or meritorious qualities. Though some people may be exceptional, identification in a dominant social group helps with access to opportunity and legitimacy.

Evolutionary Theory[edit]

  • Evolution necessitates we compete for resources and seek to be evolutionarily fit (have offspring).
  • Inclusive fitness: organisms will protect not only their own evolutionary fitness, but the fitness of genetically similar organisms.
  • People in arbitrary set groups tend to be more related to each other than those of different groups (PD: To what degree? I feel like the genetic differences are actually quite small. It’s phenotypic differences that matter.)
  • Evolutionary theory has been used to justify differential societal treatment of arbitrary set groups.

Chapter 2: Social Dominance Theory[edit]

A New Synthesis[edit]

  • The most important parts of Social Dominance Theory (SDT) are taken from parts of:
    • Authoritarian personality theory
    • Rockeach’s two-value theory of political behavior
    • Blumer’s group positions theory
    • Marxism and neoclassical elite theories
    • Results from political attitude and public opinion research
    • Social Identity Theory
    • New thinking in evolutionary psychology
  • SDT attempts to “connect the worlds of individual personality and attitudes with the domains of institutional behavior and social structure” (Sidanius and Pratto, Chapter 2 page 1).

Some Basic Observations[edit]

  • All human societies systems of group-based hierarchies
    • Dominant groups have most power, subordinate groups have less
    • Dominant groups have a disproportionate share of positive social value
      • Ex. group has the best homes, best access to education, best jobs, or seen as most physically attractive
    • Subordinate groups possess a disproportionate share of negative social value
      • Ex. group has worse health outcomes, low homeownership, seen as less trustworthy (low social status), severe negative sanctions

Group-Based Versus Individual-Based Social Hierarchies[edit]

  • Individual-based social hierarchy: you receive power based on your own ability (ex. Your charisma, artistic skills, or specific other talents).
  • Group-based social hierarchy: you receive power based on your membership in a prestigious group. This is socially constructed.
  • Authors don’t mean individual traits don’t matter, just that some prestige is ascribed to group membership

The Trimorphic Structure of Group-Based Social Hierarchy[edit]

  • Pierre van den Berghe’s three stratification systems:
    • Age system: the older have power over the younger. Interesting in that people move through all levels of power in this system if they live full lives (identity flexible).
    • Gender system: men have power over women (patriarchy). Authors conceptualized gender as fixed.
    • Arbitrary-set system: structures of power based on other socially constructed identities
      • Authors argue this system has a high degree of flexibility and “arbitrariness” because the identities are socially constructed and depend on context.
    • Argue that this system results in the most violence and oppression.
    • Argue that this system is not found within hunter-gatherer societies, unlike the other two systems (PD: I feel like there are some alternative explanations worth considering.). You need economic surplus to produce an arbitrary-set system. It will arise where economic conditions allow.
  • Every attempt to abolish an arbitrary-set system has failed. (PD: has any attempt to overthrow the other two types succeeded either?).

Basic Assumptions of Social Dominance Theory[edit]

The following is quoted directly from the text:

“(1) While age- and gender-based hierarchies will tend to exist within all social systems, arbitrary-set systems of social hierarchy will invariably emerge within social systems producing sustainable economic surplus.

(2) Most forms of group conflict and oppression (e.g., racism, ethnocentrism, sexism, nationalism, classism, regionalism) can be regarded as different manifestations of the same basic human predisposition to form group-based social hierarchies.

(3) Human social systems are subject to counterbalancing influences of hierarchy-enhancing (HE) forces, producing and maintaining ever higher levels of group-based social inequality, and hierarchy attenuating (HA) forces, producing greater levels of group-based social equality” (Sidanius and Pratto, Chapter 2).

Schematic Overview of Social Dominance Theory[edit]

  • The orientation towards group-based social hierarchy is called social dominance orientation (SDO).

Aggregated Individual Discrimination[edit]

  • The aggregation (over time) of individual acts of discrimination by one person against another. Over time, these contribute to differences in power between social groups.
    • Ex. not promoting someone because they are a woman or firing someone because they are trans

Aggregated Institutional Discrimination[edit]

  • Rules and procedures of institutions that create power differences between groups.
    • Ex. Redlining, the Dred Scott ruling, making it harder to immigrate from certain countries to the United States

Systematic Terror[edit]

  • “The use of violent threats or violence disproportionately directed towards subordinates” (Sidanius and Pratto, Chapter 2). Used to maintain power imbalance and ensure deference of subordinates to dominants.
    • Ex. police brutality against Black americans (state violence), violence against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Three forms of systematic terror:
    • official terror: violence perpetrated by the state in a public capacity (ex. public hangings of enemies of the state, disproportionate use of death penalty against Black Americans), mass arrest of protestors
    • semiofficial terror: violence carried out by the state (or organs of the state) covertly (ex. mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo and illegal detention)
    • unofficial terror: violence or threats of violence by private individuals from dominants against subordinates. Does not have state sanction but often does have participation or approval of security forces (ex. Lynchings by the Ku Klux Klan).
  • In democratic societies, dominants in politics will have to justify their brutality (the authors argue). So much of the terror occurs covertly or unofficially. No such subtlety is required in authoritarian regimes.

Behavioral Asymmetry[edit]

  • SDT, unlike Marxism and other theories, describes the way subordinates participate in their own subordination. However, it does not deny dominant groups oppress subordinate groups.
  • Four types of behavioral asymmetry:
    • Asymmetrical ingroup bias: Even if (across cultures) individuals tend to show ingroup bias (ex. White Americans wanting to protect the interests of White Americans over other groups or Indian Americans wanting to protect the interests of Indian Americans over other groups), some groups will have more ingroup biases than others.
      • Dominant groups will show greater ingroup bias than subordinate groups.
    • Outgroup favoritism or deference: Special case of asymmetric ingroup bias where subordinates favor dominants over their ingroup members (ex. colorism preferring whites over Indians in Indian communities; Uncle Tom-ing behavior of some Black Americans to white Americans).
  • Self-debilitation: Subordinates show more self-destructive behaviors than dominants. Authors argue this is often consistent with negative stereotypes of subordinates which serve as behavioral scripts and self-fulling prophecies.
  • Ideological asymmetry: social policies chosen by dominants are more likely to be driven by social dominance values. Dominants more likely to support HE social ideologies. Subordinates more likely to support HA social ideologies.
  • Behavioral asymmetry, the authors argue, show us the cooperative way intergroup oppression continues.

Legitimizing Myths[edit]

  • “Attitudes, values, beliefs, stereotypes, and ideologies that provide moral and intellectual justifications for the social practices that distribute social value within the social system” (Sidanius and Pratto, Chapter 2). Abbreviated LM.
  • LMs have two independent characteristics:
    • Functional type: Does a particular LM justify group-based social INEQUALITY or EQUALITY?
      • Hierarchy-enhancing LMs': LMs that justify group-based social inequality
        • Ex. divine right of kings, manifest destiny, sexism
        • Authors assert a lot of assumptions of political conservatism fall into this category (ex. individual responsibility over social responsibility)
      • Hierarchy-attenuating LMs: LMs that support greater levels of group-based equality
        • Ex. universal rights of man, humanism
    • Potency: Does an LM help “promote, maintain, or overthrow a given group-based hierarchy?” (Sidanius and Pratto, Chapter 2). They have four factors:
      • Consensuality: The degree to which LMs are shared across the power continuum in both dominant and subordinate groups.
        • Ex. The belief that women were subservient to men was a shared belief across sexes in Victorian England.
      • Embeddedness: How anchored an LM is in other parts of culture or ideology.
        • Ex. An embedded LM like anti-Blackness is well entrenched in U.S. culture. The caste system in Indian culture.
      • Certainty: Does an LM appear to have “a high degree of moral, religious, or scientific certainty, or truth?” (Sidanius and Pratto, Chapter 2)
        • Ex. The way white supremacy was bolstered by racist scientific research in 19th century Western Europe
      • Mediational strength: Does an LM serve as a link between the group-based social hierarchy and HE or HA policies?
        • Ex. The belief that one is responsible for their own economic reality and can achieve success through hard work alone can funnel into disapproval of social safety net policies in the U.S. This increases group inequality.

The Nature of Social Dominance Orientation[edit]

  • Social Dominance Orientation (SDO): “the degree to which individuals desire and support group-based hierarchy and the domination of “inferior” groups by “superior” groups” (Sidanius and Pratto, Chapter 2).
  • SDO is affected by four factors:
    • One’s membership in a group and strength of identification in that membership
      • We should expect dominants or those who identify with dominants have higher SDO than subordinates or those who identify with subordinates.
    • Socialization factors (ex. Education, faith, experience in war)
      • People are born with different temperamental dispositions
        • The more empathy you have, the less SDO
    • Gender (male, female)
      • Invariance hypothesis: Men will have higher SDO than women
      • This is NOT JUST because men occupy dominant social roles. The authors argue there are reasons independent of this.

The Intersecting Psychologies of Gender and Arbitrary-Set Conflict[edit]

  • Authors argue:
    • Intergroup aggression is mostly driven by men
    • Subordinate-male target hypothesis: From this, most people who are victims of intergroup aggression are men
      • This does NOT imply that women are not discriminated against, but that “subordinate males are the primary objects of arbitrary-set discrimination” (Sidanius and Pratto, Chapter 2).
      • This hypothesis goes against the double-jeopardy hypothesis. The double-jeopardy hypothesis states that subordinates ethnicities are discriminated against and women are discriminated against, so a subordinate woman is doubly disadvantaged.
  • SDT is distinct from other theories because it incorporates political psychology of gender

Hierarchical Equilibrium and Hierarchy Constraints[edit]

  • Most hominoids organize themselves so that there is some group-based inequality
  • Authors argue that level of inequality will stabilize around a certain level, which is called the point of hierarchical equilibrium
    • The point is between HE and HA forces

Other Structural Implications of Social Dominance Theory[edit]

Increasing Disproportionality[edit]

  • Law of increasing disproportion: the more political authority a political position has, the increasing probability a dominant group will be in the political position
    • Operates within all types of group-based stratification
    • Ex. the higher the post in British government, the more likely an individual went to Oxford or Cambridge

Hierarchical Consensuality[edit]

  • Subordinates and dominants largely agree on the group-based hierarchy


  • Group-based social hierarchies are incredibly resilient and resist regime smashing

Consistencies in Social Organization Across Primate Species[edit]

  • Group-based hierarchies also occur in animals closely related to humans
    • Ex. Yellow baboons determine social rank by the social rank of an offspring’s mother. Rank is inherited.