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Political Psychology, Vol. 26, No.

4, 2005

Social Dominance Orientation, Authoritarianism, and

Support for Intergroup Violence Between the Middle
East and America
P. J. Henry
DePaul University
Jim Sidanius
University of California, Los Angeles
Shana Levin
Claremont McKenna College
Felicia Pratto
University of Connecticut
Social dominance theory has generally posited that terror and intergroup violence can be
explained in terms of social dominance struggles. Social dominance theorists have
described terror mostly as a tool for maintaining intergroup hierarchies in society
(Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). Although implications of the theory suggest that terror may also
be used by lower status groups as a tool for the resistance of domination by higher status
groups, this prediction heretofore has not been empirically demonstrated. Data from two
samples, one in the United States and one in Lebanon, were collected regarding attitudes
toward terrorism and intergroup violence. The results show that the American sample
demonstrates the typical patterns of social dominance such that those who are higher in
social dominance orientation tend to support greater violence toward the Middle East.
However, the Lebanese sample shows the opposite pattern, such that those who are lower
in social dominance orientation tend to support violence toward the West. These results
suggest that (1) support for terrorism among Middle East citizens is a project of counterdominance, and, more broadly, that (2) the relationship between social dominance orientation and support for violence depends on the dynamics of the conflict and the status of
the perpetrators.
KEY WORDS: social dominance, authoritarianism, aggression, power and status differences, terrorism, Middle East
0162-895X 2005 International Society of Political Psychology
Published by Blackwell Publishing. Inc., 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ


Henry et al.

The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon
resulted in toppled governments, geo-political realignments, world-wide manhunts for terrorists, and the temporary destruction of the American sense of invulnerability. These attacks also created a general revulsion, in the Western world,
toward any action that might be labeled as terrorism. Americas consequent war
on terrorism, invasion of Iraq, and hunt for Osama bin Laden that followed the
September 11 attacks served as examples of the extent to which Americans were
willing to go to stop further acts of terrorism in the world. The American government and citizenry quickly adopted labels like terrorist and evil to describe
the people behind the attacks on America and elsewhere in the world, to help
justify their reactions.
Support for acts of terrorism seem outside the realm of normal human activity when such acts are labeled evil. But a moments thought about modern
global politics in Central Asia, Indonesia, and the Palestinian Territories, not to
mention the history of terrorist action in other parts of the world like Northern
Ireland, Peru, India, Cyprus, Quebec, Greece, Spain, Central America, Lebanon,
etc., suggests that terrorism as a form of intergroup violence is sadly far from
uncommon and needs to be understood as part of human social psychology (see
also McCauley, 2004).
Whether a destructive act is labeled terrorism or freedom fighting, of
course, is in the eye of the beholder. However, if one is to study such destructive
actions scientifically, one should avoid using value-laden or justification-laden
labels such as terrorism or freedom fighting as much as possible. Although
there are many important differences between the kind of intergroup violence
involved during a suicide bombing in Gaza versus a U.S.-led military attack on
the caves of Afghanistan, both could be considered acts of intergroup violence
regardless of how justified one may feel one or the other of these attacks may be.
With that said, the present research is concerned with why a citizen of the Middle
East or the United States would support such intergroup violence.1
Our argument is that support for intergroup violence depends in part on
whether or not one accepts the political ends toward which violence is being used.
We rely on two major theories of political attitudes for examining the Middle East
conflict: authoritarianism personality theory (e.g., Altemeyer, 1988) and social
dominance theory (e.g., Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). Both the individual difference
measures associated with these theories have shown a substantial number of
important relationships with intergroup prejudice, such that higher levels of rightwing authoritarianism (RWA) and social dominance orientation (SDO) are both
typically powerfully and largely independently related to higher levels of outgroup

Throughout this paper, references to the Middle East are meant to include those countries in the
Middle East that are mostly Muslim or Arab.

Support for Intergroup Violence


antipathy (e.g., Altemeyer, 1998; Sidanius & Pratto, 1999; Van Hiel & Mervielde,
2002; Whitley, 1999).
Because of this well-established pattern, one might also expect RWA and
SDO both to be positively associated with support for intergroup violence for a
Middle East sample as well. For example, because authoritarianism so robustly
predicts prejudice against outgroups (see e.g., Tibon & Blumberg, 1999), one
could also expect authoritarianism to be positively associated with support for
anti-Western violence, including the attacks on the World Trade Center. However,
despite the fact that social dominance orientation has typically shown similar positive associations with prejudice and intergroup antipathy as authoritarianism
within the context of Western research, there is theoretical reason to doubt that a
positive association between SDO and support for terrorist violence would hold
in the context of the Middle East. SDO is defined as the expressed degree to which
people desire (or oppose) hegemonic relationships between social groups (Pratto,
Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994; Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). Thus, those who
are high in SDO should support practices that help maintain hierarchical relationships between dominant and subordinate groups (e.g., militarism, law and
order; Pratto et al., 1994). Those who are low on SDO usually oppose violence
when directed against those low in power. For example, Americans low on SDO
oppose the death penalty (Mitchell & Sidanius, 1993) and support humanitarian
rather than hegemonic uses of the military, for example, peaceable intervention
in the most recent Yugoslavian civil war and in Somalia (Pratto et al., 1994).
However, if violence is directed at reducing hierarchical relationships between
dominant and subordinate groups, we would expect the opposite pattern, that those
who are high on SDO would oppose that kind of violence whereas those who are
low on SDO would support it (Lemieux & Pratto, 2003).
Concerning conflicts in the Middle East, inasmuch as subnational actors (e.g.,
Palestinian terrorists) usually do not have access to massive military force compared to dominant nations, and insofar as the Arab world can be seen generally
as economically subordinate to the West (United Nations Development Program,
2002), Arab terrorism against the West may be seen broadly as a weapon of the
weak against the strong. Consistent with recent survey work in the Middle East
(see Sidanius, Henry, Pratto, & Levin, 2004), antipathy towards the United States
may be fueled by reactance against perceived American hegemony, indifference
to Arab suffering, and the suppression of Arab rights (see also Beyer, 2001; Lewis,
1990). Seen from this perspective, terrorism against the United States and
American power can be viewed as acts of counterdominance, in the service of
reducing the hierarchical relationships between dominant and subordinate groups.
Hence, when social policies or forms of intergroup aggression are directed at
destabilizing or counteracting hegemonic group relationships, SDO should be
negatively rather than positively related to support for such practices. As a result,
we should expect support for terrorist violence against the United States to be


Henry et al.

negatively rather than positively associated with social dominance orientation.2

That is, those who are lower in SDO would be the ones who show greater support
for anti-Western aggression, whereas those who are higher in SDO would be the
ones who show less support for anti-Western aggression. Under these circumstances, one might infer that support for social dominance would be to maintain
the status quo that ensures the continued dominance of the Western over the Arab
world, rather than to realize a new world order of Arab domination. To our knowledge, this study is the first to empirically examine the relationship between SDO
and support for violence of the weak against the strong.
The Hypotheses
In the present studies we examined samples from both America and Lebanon
and considered the relationships between social dominance orientation (SDO),
right-wing authoritarianism (RWA), and support for intergroup violence. We
expected to find a few key outcomes, which are outlined below.
First, consistent with the fairly large literature that has examined both RWA
and SDO, we expected a relatively small, yet positive relationship between RWA
and SDO in both American and Middle East samples. We also expected both
measures to make mostly independent contributions to support for intergroup
violence. All together, we expected to reestablish the idea that RWA and SDO
are related but distinguishable constructs.
Second, we expected to find a positive relationship between RWA and measures of support for intergroup violence, regardless of the ends to which that violence is being used, be it American violence directed against the Middle East or
Middle Eastern violence directed against the West. This hypothesis is consistent
with previous research on the relationship between RWA and intergroup
Third, we expected to find a different pattern of relationships between SDO
and measures of support for intergroup violence depending on the sample. Consistent with social dominance research on Western samples, in an American
sample we expected to find a positive relationship between SDO and support for
violence against the Arab world (see e.g., Sidanius & Liu, 1992). In contrast, given
the dynamics of the Middle East conflict described above, we expected the

The expectation of a negative relationship between SDO and support for violence assumes that there
exists in a sample (and a society) a range of support for hierarchy-attenuating violence. For example,
we expect such a negative relationship in our Middle East sample because of the range of support
for anti-Western violence there. In the United States, however, we would not expect a wide range
of support for hierarchy-attenuating aggression, such as that committed by more radically bent environmental groups, animal rights groups, or even Middle East organizations. Consequently, we would
not expect a negative relationship between SDO and hierarchy-attenuating violence in just any
sample, unless there should exist a widespread and reasonably accepted movement endorsing such

Support for Intergroup Violence


opposite relationship between these variables within a Middle East sample. Low
levels of SDO should be associated with high levels of support for violence against
the West.
A questionnaire assessing reactions to the September 11 attacks was administered to two different samples in the fall of 2001. The first sample, called the
American sample, included 83 students from the University of Connecticut.
Five participants did not indicate they were United States citizens, leaving a
remaining 78 participants, including 28 men and 50 women, with a mean age of
The second sample, called the Lebanese sample, was composed of 145 students from the American University of Beirut, Lebanon. The American University of Beirut is an elite, private university founded in 1866, where English is the
language of instruction. This population is particularly interesting because it comprises the Lebanese subelite, the pool from which the future leaders of Lebanese
society are disproportionately recruited. Although the university is called American, the largest proportion of students comes from Lebanon and other parts of
the Middle East, and consequently the university serves as an important rallying
center for the Palestinian cause and the broader Arab/Muslim cause as well. We
took extra precautions to select only those students who had an exclusively Middle
Eastern citizenship, leaving a sample of 103 participants, including 49 men and
54 women, with a mean age of 20.7. This sample was composed of 92 participants with exclusively Lebanese citizenship, three with dual citizenship (sharing
Lebanese citizenship with Egyptian, Iraqi, and Palestinian citizenship), six who
indicated Palestinian citizenship, with the remaining two claiming Syrian and
Jordanian citizenship, respectively. We felt confident this sample represented, as
Edward Said once said of the students at the American University of Beirut, the
vanguard for the new citizens of the Middle East (Said, 2000).
The American and Lebanese samples were given similar, though not identical, surveys to complete. Because the analyses we wanted to conduct are comparative between the two samples, we chose to keep the questionnaires written in

The large proportion of women in the American sample may be due to the fact the data were collected as part of a psychology exercise. American psychology classes typically have a disproportionately large number of women. The Lebanese data were collected in the broader student population
through post office boxes and thus show a more balanced gender representation. The analyses that
follow covary out the effect of gender, which did not change the pattern or significance of the results.


Henry et al.

English for both samples. Although most students at the American University of
Beirut are also fluent in Arabic (the first language of Lebanon), translating the
questionnaire into Arabic would have likely altered the meaning, even if slightly,
of the constructs we were measuring.
Dependent Variables
Support for anti-Arab violence. Two different scales were constructed to
measure support for anti-terror violence, mostly as measured through support for
military action against Middle East countries, people, and organizations that
support terrorist activity. The first scale, which we call Anti-Terror 1, was measured in both samples and included four questions, each measured on 7-point scales
(anchored at 7 = strongly agree and 1 = strongly disagree). These items included
the following: (1) Afghanistan should be invaded or bombed until they surrender bin Laden; (2) Osama bin Laden must be stopped by any means necessary;
(3) The U.S. has no right to bomb Afghanistan (reverse coded); and (4) The
U.S. should not engage in any military action that will kill civilians, no matter
how few (reverse coded). These items were combined into a scale with acceptable reliability: American sample, Cronbachs a = .75; Lebanese sample,
Cronbachs a = .69.
A second scale, which we call Anti-Terror 2, was a combination of six items
measuring support for anti-terror aggression, and was asked in the United States
sample only. The first three items of this scale concerned support for the United
States military in the war on terrorism, beginning with a lead question that stated,
For what purposes would you support or oppose the use of the U.S. military?
and followed by the statements: (1) To free Afghanistan from Taliban repression, (2) To destroy Al Qaeda, and (3) To insure U.S. influence is felt in countries that might support terrorists. Respondents indicated their support or
opposition on a 7-point scale (anchored at 1 = very strongly oppose and 7 = very
strongly support). Additionally, three more questions were asked on 7-point scales
(anchored at 1 = strongly disagree and 7 = strongly agree), including (4) The
U.S. has to take the lead in eliminating terrorism; no one else could do it; (5)
The U.S. is destined to lead the world out of the horror of terrorism; and (6)
Public executions for terrorists. All six items were combined into a scale with
acceptable reliability, a = .72 (American sample only).
Support for anti-Western violence. In both samples, a scale of support for violence against the United States was measured with two items. Respondents were
asked how much they felt that the attack on the World Trade Center was justified
(anchored at 1 = not at all justified and 7 = very much justified). Participants were
also asked their agreement with the idea that the United States must be stopped
by any means necessary (1 = strongly disagree and 7 = strongly agree). The reliability of the combination of these items into a scale was unacceptable for the
American sample (a = .21); consequently, further analyses consider these items

Support for Intergroup Violence


separately. A measure of support for Arab militias was a scale composed of the
average support for five organizations categorized as terrorist by the United
States Department of State as of February, 2002, namely (a) PFLP, (b) Hamas,
(c) Islamic Jihad, (d) Fateh, and (e) Hizballah, with ratings ranging from 1 =
Strongly oppose to 7 = Strongly support. Because of the lack of familiarity
with these organizations in the United States at the time of the survey, these items
were included in the Lebanese survey only (a = .95).
Predictor Variables
The two key predictor variables were the social dominance orientation scale
and the right-wing authoritarianism scale. Additionally, demographic variables
were included in the analyses for statistical control.4
Social dominance orientation (SDO). Social dominance orientation (SDO)
was measured in all samples with the full 16-item SDO6 scale (Pratto et al., 1994).
Sample items include Some groups of people are more worthy than others, and
It would be good if all groups could be equal (reverse coded). All items were
measured on a 7-point Likert scale, anchored at strongly agree and strongly
disagree and showed good reliability (American sample, a = .92; Lebanese
sample, a = .89).
Right-wing authoritarianism (RWA). This construct was measured by a 20item RWA scale (see Altemeyer, 1981) in both samples. The items included, for
example, Obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues children should learn, and It is best to treat dissenters with leniency and an open
mind, since new ideas are the lifeblood of progressive change (reverse coded).
All items were measured on a 7-point Likert scale, anchored at strongly agree
and strongly disagree. One item that read Atheists and others who have
rebelled against the established religions are no doubt every bit as good and virtuous as those who attend church regularly was reworded in the Lebanese sample
to include and mosque. This item was removed in both samples because it was
not worded identically between the two, leaving a 19-item scale that had acceptable reliability: in the American sample, a = .68; in the Lebanese sample,
a = .78.
Demographics. For the regression analyses, we covaried out the effects of
sex, social class, and parental education. Social class was measured in both
samples by a single item that asked what socioeconomic class the participant

We also included some political ideology items in our surveys, but we did not control for them
because according to social dominance theory these variables serve to legitimize the existing social
hierarchy. In other words, they serve to mediate between SDO and political attitudes. When we
included political ideology in the regression analyses, the patterns and levels of significance for SDO
and RWA typically stayed the same, but in a couple occasions (predictably) their power was reduced
to nonsignificance. Because the focus of the paper is on SDO and RWA and not their mediators, we
chose to use demographic variables for the controls rather than attitude variables.


Henry et al.

belonged to (1 = upper class, 2 = upper-middle class, 3 = middle class, 4 = lowermiddle class, and 5 = poor). In both samples, parental education was asked of
both the mother and the father, ranging from 1 (less than six years of education)
to 8 (post-graduate degree). Because the parental education items scaled together
with relatively low reliability in the Lebanese sample (a = .56), these items were
kept separate in analyses for both samples.
Differences in Support for Intergroup Violence Between the American and
Middle East Samples
We first tested whether there were differences between the American and
Lebanese samples in mean levels of support for the different measures of intergroup violence, mostly to establish that the Lebanese sample was not mostly sympathetic with the American cause despite being drawn from the American
University of Beirut. In conducting these analyses, we controlled for the gender
difference that occurred between the two samples. We conducted betweensubjects analyses of covariance (ANCOVA) on the scales and items that were
measured in both samples, including the Anti-Terror 1 scale and the two items
measuring support for aggression against the United States. We also included tests
of the effect size (h2), indicating the percentage of variance in each item and scale
that could be explained by the simple membership in the American sample versus
the Lebanese sample.
The samples showed clear differences in their support for the various measures of intergroup violence, as shown by Table 1. The American participants
supported the items in the anti-terrorism scale far more than the Lebanese participants. Similarly, the Lebanese participants were much more likely to support antiAmerican violence than the American participants. These differences were large
enough that nearly a third of the variance in the anti-terrorism scale could be
explained by the dichotomous measure of sample membership alone, as well as
nearly a fifth of the variance in the single item measuring whether the attack on
the World Trade Center was justified. These data suggest that, despite the name
American in the American University of Beirut, the Lebanese sample is not
responding in the same way an American sample would.
Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) and Social
Dominance Orientation (SDO)
The mean levels of RWA and SDO are shown in Table 1, for both samples.
We conducted between-subjects analyses of covariance (ANCOVA), accounting
for the gender differences between the samples. The results showed that there was
a statistically significant difference among the means for only the social domi-

Support for Intergroup Violence


Table 1. Mean Differences in Support for Violence, Social Dominance Orientation, and RightWing Authoritarianism

Support for Violence

1. Anti-Terror 1
2. Anti-Terror 2
3. Attacks on WTC were justified?
4. U.S. Must Be Stopped
5. Support for Arab Militias
Predictor Variables
Social Dominance Orientation (SDO)
Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA)
Correlation between SDO & RWA


















r = .35**

r = .19


Note. ***p < .001; **p < .01; *p < .05; p < .08. Numbers in parentheses are standard deviations. A
dash () indicates the scale was not measured in that sample. Numbers in parentheses indicate
standard deviations for that group. The analyses of variance (F and h2 results) covary out the
gender differences between samples. All scales range from 1 to 7. Higher numbers indicate greater
support for the U.S.-led war against terrorism, stronger support for violence against the U.S., more
support for organizations that the United States government has labeled terrorist, and higher
levels of social dominance and authoritarianism.

nance orientation scale, such that the Americans had slightly higher levels of
social dominance orientation compared to the Lebanese.5
Table 1 also shows the test of the first hypothesis, that there would be a positive relationship between SDO and RWA in both samples. The correlation
between SDO and RWA was significant for the American sample (r = .35) and
marginally significant for the Lebanese sample (r = .19); however, these correlations were not significantly different from each other. Although the Lebanese

This finding of the difference in mean levels for SDO is likely due to the framework of the conflict
between the Arab world and the West. In this framework, we would expect to see higher mean levels
of SDO among those in power (the Americans) versus those with less power (the Lebanese; cf.
Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). It is possible that one might find higher mean levels of SDO in a Lebanese
sample under different frames of references (e.g., gender issues). Although the SDO scale may be
subject to context effects like most individual-difference variables, this is not in contradiction to the
point that relative differences in SDO are stable (see Sidanius & Pratto, 1999, pp. 8081).


Henry et al.
Table 2. The Relationship Between Social Dominance Orientation (SDO), Right-Wing
Authoritarianism (RWA), and Support for Anti-Arab/Anti-Western Aggression


Support for Anti-Arab Aggression

Anti-Terror 1

R squared

Anti-Terror 2












Support for Anti-Western Aggression

Support for
Arab Militias

R squared



WTC Attacks




U.S. Must Be





-.23 -.21

Note. **p < .01, *p < .05, p < .08. Columns labeled r are Pearson correlations; columns labeled
b1 are standardized beta weights for regression that include only SDO and RWA as predictors;
columns labeled b 2 are standardized beta weights for regressions that include SDO, RWA, and
the covariates sex, class, fathers education, and mothers education. The variables are coded such
that higher numbers indicate greater support for the anti-terror war, the U.S. military, Arab militias,
and violence directed against the United States, and higher levels of social dominance orientation
(SDO) and authoritarianism (RWA).

correlation was only marginally significant, we interpret this as part of the natural
variation in the magnitude of correlations between SDO and RWA, which is typically modest (Altemeyer, 1998; Sidanius & Pratto, 1999; Whitley, 1999).
Intergroup Violence and Right-Wing Authoritarianism
We then tested our second hypothesis, that we would find a positive relationship between authoritarianism and support for intergroup violence.6 In conducting these analyses, we ran correlation analyses, multiple regression analyses
with both RWA and SDO as predictors, and a second stage of multiple regression
analyses with RWA, SDO, and the controls (sex, class, and parental education)
included in the multiple regressions.
As shown in Table 2, the relationship between RWA and support for intergroup aggression was statistically significant for only two of the five measures,
although it was consistently positive in each case. Figure 1 shows the regression
slopes of RWA predicting the combined measures of anti-Western aggression

We do not include the results of SDO and RWA predicting anti-Western aggression in the American
sample and anti-Arab aggression in the Lebanese sample because these results were generally very
weak and not statistically significant.

Support for Intergroup Violence


Lebanese Sample: Predicting Anti-Western Aggression


bRWA = .230*

American Sample: Predicting Anti-Arab Aggression

b RWA = .174
b SDO = .339*

bSDO = -.325**







Figure 1. Social dominance orientation (SDO) and right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) predicting
intergroup aggression in the Lebanese and American samples.

support for the Lebanese sample and the combined measures of anti-Arab aggression for the American sample, controlling for SDO, sex, class, and parental education.7 The results show a significantly positive relationship between RWA and
intergroup aggression support for the Lebanese (p < .05), although not for the
Americans (p = .16). Although the coefficients in the correlation and multiple
regression analyses were not typically significant, in all cases the relationship
between RWA and support for intergroup violence was in the expected theoretical direction. There appears to be somewhat limited support, then, for the second
hypothesis, that RWA would be positively related to outgroup violence regardless
of the purpose for which that violence may be directed, either in the service of
enhancing or attenuating group-based hierarchies. To consider more closely
support for intergroup violence in the service of shifting group-based hierarchies,
we next considered its relationships with social dominance orientation.
Intergroup Violence and Social Dominance Orientation
Finally we tested our third hypothesis, that we would find a positive relationship between SDO and support for anti-Arab aggression in the American
sample, but a negative relationship between SDO and support for anti-Western
aggression in the Lebanese sample. In conducting these analyses, we ran correlation analyses, multiple regression analyses with both RWA and SDO as predictors, and a second stage of multiple regression analyses with RWA, SDO, and the
controls (sex, class, and parental education) included in the multiple regressions.
As shown in Table 2, the expected pattern was upheld in the correlation and

Although the measures of anti-Western aggression are conceptually distinct (e.g., support for the
WTC attacks versus support for Arab militias), the items scaled together with strong reliability
(a = .91). Similarly, the anti-Arab (anti-terror) items all scaled together well in the American
sample (a = .83).


Henry et al.

regression analyses, and statistically significantly so, for all the variables measuring support for intergroup aggression (marginally significant, p < .08, in the
regressions in Arab support for stopping the United States). Figure 1 shows the
regression slopes of SDO predicting the combined measures of intergroup aggression support, controlling for RWA, sex, class, and parental education. Again,
whereas the relationship between SDO and support for intergroup aggression was
significantly positive within the American sample, it was significantly negative
within the Lebanese sample.
The pattern of findings for social dominance showed consistent support for
the third hypothesis with respect to predicting support for intergroup violence.
Social dominance orientation had a consistently positive relationship for Americans, but a consistently negative relationship for the Lebanese. This pattern calls
into question the motives behind Middle East support for violence against the
West and suggests that such support may be in the service of counterdominance.
The pattern of findings is encouraging in its support for the hypotheses presented earlier. The expected positive relationship between SDO and RWA was
upheld in both samples (marginally so for the Lebanese), which replicates findings from the literature. These scales also showed largely unique predictive power
of measures of support for intergroup violence. RWA was only significantly
related in two of the five measures of support for anti-Western and anti-Arab
aggression, but it was always in a positive direction; nevertheless, these findings
suggest that RWA may not be a particularly powerful predictor of support for
intergroup aggression. One explanation why RWA may not be a potent or consistent predictor of intergroup aggression in this instance may concern the element
of RWA that relates to deference to authority. In both the United States and
Lebanon, there is not a clear case for what authorities support. Although the most
powerful elements of the current United States administration seem to have a clear
and unwavering position on handling terrorism, there exists a great deal of criticism of this position not only from many academics and media personalities,
but from many government officials as well. In Lebanon, although some militia
leaders openly advocate anti-Western violence, this position is not supported by
the Lebanese government. Consequently, in both the United States and Lebanon,
the element of right-wing authoritarianism that is associated with traditionalism
and deference to authority may be diffuse in the intergroup context described here.
On the other hand, SDO showed a consistently significant positive relationship with support for anti-Arab violence in the American sample; however, SDO
had a consistently significant negative relationship with support for anti-Western
violence in the Lebanese sample. These findings are especially remarkable
because of the abstract nature of the SDO scale, and the fact that its items contain
no mention of antipathies toward any particular groups, much less Middle Eastern

Support for Intergroup Violence


or American groups. As such, there should be no methodological reason that the

SDO scale is related to these measures of support for intergroup violence.
This finding of the negative relationship between SDO and support for antiWestern violence in the Lebanese sample is particularly important, because in
most studies that have considered both SDO and RWA, the results have shown
that high levels of SDO and RWA lead to similar outcomes on a variety of political attitudes including conservatism, racism, and sexism (e.g., Altemeyer, 1998;
McFarland & Adelson, 1996; Pratto et al., 1994). For the Lebanese sample, there
was a modest positive relationship between SDO and RWA as found in the American sample, but they each had relationships with support for intergroup aggression that worked in opposite directions. Those who preferred the reduction of
group-based hierarchies were in favor of violence of the weak (e.g., Arabs) against
the strong (e.g., the United States). Although such a relationship follows logically
from social dominance theory (Lemieux & Pratto, 2003; Sidanius & Pratto, 1999),
to our knowledge, this study is the first empirical demonstration of a negative relationship between SDO and support for aggression. These findings confirm that
SDO is not simply an index of ones willingness to support acts of aggression
against outgroups. Rather, SDO indicates support for many forms of activity
(including violence) directed at maintaining or reducing group-based hegemony.
Thus, our data suggest that the present conflict may involve a contest over whether
current hegemonic group relations will be maintained or attenuated. It also suggests that support for intergroup violence is a function, in part, of ones position
in an overall power hierarchy and the political ends toward which that violence
is being used.
Equally instructive here is the inference one may make about the participants
in the Lebanese sample who are higher in SDO. These participants have much
less support for anti-Western aggression than their compatriots with lower SDO.
This finding suggests that those with stronger dominance motives in Lebanon are
not those who are pushing some sort of new world order of Arab dominance;
rather, they may be in the service of maintaining the status quo of Western
There are some limitations to these studies that should be addressed. First,
the samples were composed of college students, and future research should collect
public opinion of a broader adult population. With this said, it is possible that collecting a broader adult sample would not demonstrate a different pattern of results,
only a stronger one. Colleges tend to be fairly liberal places, including the universities in Beirut. By sampling outside of a student environment, one would be
much more likely to capture a broader range of feelings and beliefs, and more
variance could mean stronger relationships. Second, the Lebanese sample completed a questionnaire that was written in English. Although this was necessary
for the present study for comparative reasons, follow-up research in the Middle
East should involve questions posed in Arabic. A third limitation is that our Middle
East sample was composed of predominantly Lebanese citizens. Although


Henry et al.

Lebanon is a very highly politicized country with respect to the Middle East crisis,
especially given its proximity to and history with Israel, it is but one country out
of many of the largely Arab and Muslim countries in the Middle East and beyond
that have become involved in the Middle East conflict. Therefore, one must resist
the temptation to generalize these results across the entire Arab world.
Before the events of September 11, 2001, there was a notable dearth of public
opinion research conducted in the Middle East. After September 11, this situation
changed with some large-scale polls of citizens in multiple countries in the Middle
East, including those conducted by Gallup, Zogby International, etc. Although this
trend is encouraging, further public opinion studies in the Middle East would help
determine exactly what motives are driving support for aggression against countries like the United States and thus might help reshape American foreign policy
designed to encourage peace between the American and Arab worlds.
In conclusion, the present data help to illuminate the roles played by authoritarianism and social dominance orientation in determining political attitudes relevant to intergroup relations. In Beirut, a city that has long served as a gateway
between cultures, the Arab world is strongly pushed and pulled by tensions that
exist between the Middle East and the West. How its citizens, and how American
citizens, are affected by the current world conflicts depends in part on their beliefs
about the arrangement of group hierarchies in society. Understanding these
processes is important not only for furthering important theories of group conflict, but also for determining how to best direct conflict resolution among those
who are so closely and persistently affected by it.
The authors would like to thank Diala Nammour and Tony Lemieux for their
assistance with the data collection and preparation. Correspondence concerning
this article should be sent to P.J. Henry, Department of Psychology, DePaul
University, 2219 N. Kenmore Ave., Chicago, IL. E-Mail: phenry1@depaul.edu.
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