Correlations between social dominance orientation and political attitudes reflect common genetic underpinnings

Thomas Haarklau Kleppestø, Nikolai Olavi Czajkowski, Olav Vassend, Espen Røysamb, Nikolai Haahjem Eftedal, Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington, Jonas R. Kunst, Lotte Thomsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A foundational question in the social sciences concerns the interplay of underlying causes in the formation of people's political beliefs and prejudices. What role, if any, do genes, environmental influences, or personality dispositions play? Social dominance orientation (SDO), an influential index of people's general attitudes toward intergroup hierarchy, correlates robustly with political beliefs. SDO consists of the subdimensions SDO-dominance (SDO-D), which is the desire people have for some groups to be actively oppressed by others, and SDO-egalitarianism (SDO-E), a preference for intergroup inequality. Using a twin design (n = 1,987), we investigate whether the desire for intergroup dominance and inequality makes up a genetically grounded behavioral syndrome. Specifically, we investigate the heritability of SDO, in addition to whether it genetically correlates with support for political policies concerning the distribution of power and resources to different social groups. In addition to moderate heritability estimates for SDO-D and SDO-E (37% and 24%, respectively), we find that the genetic correlation between these subdimensions and political attitudes was overall high (mean genetic correlation 0.51), while the environmental correlation was very low (mean environmental correlation 0.08). This suggests that the relationship between political attitudes and SDO-D and SDO-E is grounded in common genetics, such that the desire for (versus opposition to) intergroup inequality and support for political attitudes that serve to enhance (versus attenuate) societal disparities form convergent strategies for navigating group-based dominance hierarchies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17741-17746
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number36
StatePublished - Sep 3 2019


  • Behavioral genetics
  • Evolution
  • Political attitudes
  • Prejudice
  • Social dominance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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