Are there any evolutionary explanations for how the social dominance orientation personality trait came into existence in humans and other animals?

Jim Sidanius suggests that the SDO trait may be genetically inherited through genes, but he doesn't describe the mechanism by which the SDO trait evolved in his Social Dominance Theory book. This study of 830 Croatian twins from the University of Zagreb, in Croatia, suggests that the SDO trait is genetically heritable. This study from Princeton Univerity also suggests that SDO is genetically heritable. But this other study suggests that variances in SDO are primarily environmental.

In his book, Different Gender, Frans De Waal suggests that mate guarding increases reproductive success by 10%, but he never describes mate guarding as a product of the social dominance orientation. De Waal only said that dominance hierarchies are the evolutionary product of the mate-guarding reproductive strategy. I think this is a plausible mechanism by which the SDO trait came into existence, but are there any other theories as to how the SDO trait came into existence?

I also think that the SDO theory is supported by evidence from another theory called Social Value Orientation, which suggests that people have different attitudes toward how economic resources are distributed. I think the SDO trait is one of the three types of social value orientations.

Some people have a pro-social value orientation and often seek altruistic redistributions of resources that would disadvantage them but benefit others. This prosocial value orientation could be explained by the somatic empathy trait having evolved out of joint parental child-rearing in mammals. I'm looking for similar evolutionary theories for the SDO trait.

Nevertheless, what are the evolutionary arguments for and against the SDO trait? And what are the evolutionary theories for SIT that could disprove the existence of an SDO trait?

And lastly, what are the various theories that explain the biological mechanism by which the SDO trait came into existence?

  • $\begingroup$ What makes you think "social dominance orientation" is a thing that evolved, rather than an abstract construct? When you say you "have no social identity", are you sure you don't just mean that your social identity is treated as default in society? $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Sep 15, 2023 at 20:19
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause Men who identify as male will "prove" their manhood by showing how mentally tough they are by never discussing their relationship problems and emotional problems with their male friends. De Waal talked about how he and his male friends never talked about such feelings with other males. I will talk about such problems with any male and if they don't want to listen, I'll just never talk to them again. Men who identify with the male gender role aspire to be the sole breadwinner of their family. I don't and I wouldn't mind being a house husband if it's convenient for the family. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 16, 2023 at 10:44
  • $\begingroup$ Having some differences from the most stereotypical male example you can come up with does not mean you don't identify as male. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Sep 16, 2023 at 13:03
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause I don't believe I have a female brain, and even if I did, I wouldn't try to change my body or biology to match women's biology. Transpeople believe that their brain is the wrong sex and need to change their body's sex to match their brain's sex, and they also feel that this supposed mismatch is causing them great distress. This is why they identify as the opposite biological sex. If you believe you have the opposite sex's brain, but don't care about changing your physiology, mannerisms, and dress code to match those of the opposite sex, then you don't have a gender identity. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 17, 2023 at 17:36
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause When people talk about what gender they identify with, they are talking about whether they believe they have a male or female personality or both in the case of non-binary people. One's gender identity is whatever one believes about one's gender. If you have a gender identity then your self-esteem is dependent on the extent to which you believe your biology matches your gendered personality. If your gender has no impact whatsoever on your self-esteem or mental well-being then you don't have a gender identity. You also need to believe gender personalities exist to have a gender. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 17, 2023 at 17:42

1 Answer 1


SDO theory was developed outside the paradigm of evolutionary psychology, but I think it is possible to make a connection. A person with a high social status can optimize his/her fitness by being egoistic and exploiting low status people. On the other hand, the optimal survival strategy for a person with low status or in a precarious situation would be to be friendly and helpful. You help another person in need because one day you may need this person's help in return. In other words SDO is an optimal strategy for people with high status only. It would be possible to build an interesting theory about this, but I can't find much literature on this. See Lammers, J., & Stapel, D. A. (2011). Power increases dehumanization. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 14(1), 113–126. and other literature by Lammers. If you can find other literature relating to this then please post it here.


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