Social dominance orientation (SDO)—the tendency to accept and endorse group-based dominance—has been linked with reduced empathy and increased schadenfreude (i.e., pleasure at the misfortunes of others) towards competitive others. Are these outcomes driven by a strategic motivation to feel emotions that facilitate hierarchy-reinforcing behaviors (and avoid those that interfere)? Across three pre-registered studies using Amazon Mechanical Turk participants (N = 1724), we find that SDO determines which emotions people want and choose to feel. People with higher (relative to lower) levels of SDO make similar predictions of others’ emotions when asked, but desire to feel less empathy and schadenfreude toward low-status targets, and when given a choice, choose to feel less empathy and more schadenfreude. This work adds to a growing literature on the impact of ideology—in this case, SDO—on emotion tendencies and further expands work on the motivated nature of empathy.