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Social Dominance Orientation and Empathy

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Social Dominance Orientation and Empathy

Social dominance orientation (SDO) measures the extent to which people desire and promote group-based inequality. SDO is positively related to prejudicial attitudes like racism, sexism, and xenophobia, as well as positively related to endorsing policies and behaviors that support inequality, such as torture, anti-affirmative action, and unequal resource distribution. Despite the wealth of research on the attitudinal and behavioral implications of having higher levels of SDO, there is relatively little work concerning the relationship between SDO and emotions.

In this project we are interested in the relationship between ideologies such as SDO and empathic and counter-empathic emotions. With my collaborators I’ve investigated the basic relationship between SDO, empathy, and counter-empathy – feeling opposite emotions of that of another person – across four studies (N = 808) in both racial and novel groups settings. I found that overall, SDO was negatively associated with feeling empathy for others and is positively associated with feeling counter-empathy. These patterns became exacerbated for out-groups specifically in competitive group settings.

In my current work I am investigating whether the outcomes mentioned above are driven by a strategic motivation to feel emotions that facilitate hierarchy-reinforcing behaviors (and avoid emotions that interfere). I am also currently developing a theoretical model that causally connects SDO, (counter)-empathic emotions, and hierarchy enhancing behaviors and policy support. Previous work has established that SDO is related to both actively dominant and passively anti-egalitarian behaviors and attitudes. I argued that these relationships are mediated through counter-empathy and empathy respectively.

Sa-kiera T. J. Hudson, PhD
Postdoctoral Associate in the Social Perception and Communications Lab

My research interests include race, gender, sexual orientation, and power.


Social dominance orientation (SDO)—the tendency to accept and endorse group-based dominance—has been linked with reduced empathy and …

SDO is negatively related to empathy and positively related to counter-empathy in general. When group boundaries are made salient, the …


Emerging Scholars Presentation at NYU and Princeton

Presentation within the symposium ‘Empathy Interventions: Who, What, When, and How?’