Recent surveys linking people opinions on social inequality to how they suppose and act on environmental issues could demonstrate crucial to changing their behaviour
In the 1990 s, psychologists at the University of California, Los Angeles, developed a scientific theory be held accountable for all the racism and violence in the world. Social dominance theory, which attributes sexism and racism( among other isms) to the route humanity organises its social structure, can be used to explain everything from opposition to welfare policies to why we go to war.
Put simply, the theory states that people with power will always try more of the desirable things in life( as they see it) at the expense of their subordinates.
Today, researchers are applying social predominance hypothesi to try to understand an even broader scope of behaviours. Two recent studies relate people’s views on social equality to how they think and act on environmental issues such as climate change and conservation. The findings hint at radical new ways to increase support for measures that will attain the planet more sustainable for all who live on it.
The horrors of hierarchies
Social dominance theory revolves around the observation that most modern human social systems are organised in a similar way( with notable exceptions among the Indigenous communities of the world ).
” Human social systems have a tendency to be organised as group-based hierarchies with one small group at the top of the social system and a variety of groups at the bottom ,” tells Harvard University professor Jim Sidanius, one of the researchers who came up with the theory.” The primary forms of discrimination and anti-group violence we observe around the world and throughout history are simply an expression of this general propensity for humans to form hierarchical social organisations .”
Sidanius and his colleague Felicia Pratto , now at the University of Connecticut, designed a scoring system known as social dominance orientation( SDO)- a measure of how much people will accept social inequality. It’s based on agreement or disagreement with a series of written statements such as” some groups of people are simply inferior to other groups “.
While it’s not hard to imagine that someone’s SDO score might predict their propensity for racism( which it does ), it’s less clear how it would relate to their concern for the environment. But it’s this scoring system that is now being adopted by environmental researchers for exactly that reason.
One recent paper published in Social Psychological and Personality Sciencebrings together data from 25 countries in the first large-scale study of business associations between social dominance and environmental behaviours. The researchers surveyed 5,400 participants, deciding their SDO score and asking them questions about their environmental “intentions”, such as whether they would sign a petition in support of protecting the environment, or try to reduce their carbon footprint by cycling or strolling instead of driving. Their conclusion: that a high SDO score- in other words, being accepting of social inequality- makes a person least likely to take pro-environmental actions.