Recent studies linking people views on social inequality to how they suppose and act on environmental issues could prove crucial to changing their behaviour
In the 1990 s, psychologists at the University of California, Los Angeles, developed a scientific theory to account for all the racism and violence in the world. Social dominance theory, which attributes sexism and racism( among other isms) to the way humanity organises its social structures, can be used to explain everything from opposition to welfare policies to why we go to war.
Put simply, the hypothesi states that people with power will always attempt more of the desirable things in life( as they see it) at the expense of their subordinates.
Today, researchers are applying social dominance theory to try to understand an even broader scope of behaviours. Two recent analyzes associate people’s positions on social equality to how they believe and act on environmental issues such as climate change and conservation. The findings hint at revolutionary new ways to increase support for measures that will make 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 hypothesi.” The primary forms of discrimination and anti-group violence we observe around the world and throughout history are simply manifestations of this general tendency 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 analyse of the association between social predominance and environmental behaviour. The researchers surveyed 5,400 participants, ascertaining 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 walking instead of driving. Their conclusion: that a high SDO score- in other words, being accepting of social inequality- makes a person less likely to take pro-environmental actions.