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Emotions and Hierarchy

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Emotions and Hierarchy

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.

I’ve also investigated whether the outcomes mentioned above are driven by a strategic motivation to feel emotions that facilitate hierarchy-reinforcing behaviors (and avoid emotions that interfere). In three pre-registered studies (N = 1724) I found that people with higher levels of SDO desired to feel less empathy and schadenfreude toward low-status targets, and when given a choice, chose to avoid situations in which they would feel empathy towards low-status targets and approached situations in which they would feel schadenfreude.

I am 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.

Papers in progress include:

  1. Cruelty and Apathy are the Point: Apathy and Antipathy Mediate the Relationship Between SDO and Harmful Policy Support
  2. Role of Empathy and Schadenfreude Metaperceptions in Political Reconciliation
  3. Ideologies and (Counter-)Empathic Emotions: Unique and Common Variance
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.


In three studies we show that higher levels of social dominance orientation (SDO) is related to the desire and choice to feel less …

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