Research Article: Social dominance orientation as an obstacle to intergroup apology

Date Published: January 25, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Nobuhiro Mifune, Kazunori Inamasu, Shoko Kohama, Yohsuke Ohtsubo, Atsushi Tago, Jan De Houwer.


Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) has engaged the interest of social and personality psychologists as it has deep implications for the psychology of intergroup conflict, particularly regarding factors such as prejudice and discrimination, as well as international conflict resolution. Nevertheless, few studies have directly assessed how SDO relates to intergroup reconciliation. This study (effective N = 819) measured participants’ SDO along with their attitudes toward various governmental apologies to test the hypothesis that SDO is associated with unwillingness to issue intergroup apologies. The results showed that SDO was negatively correlated with supportive attitudes toward government-issued international apologies. This negative correlation remained intact after controlling for the effects of political conservatism and militarism.

Partial Text

Conflicts between various social categories and groups, such as nations, ethnic groups, and races, are widely observed in the contemporary world. Mechanisms underlying the emergence and persistence of intergroup conflicts have been studied in several of the social sciences, such as political science, sociology, and economics, as well as social psychology [1, 2, 3]. Although social psychology tends to focus on situational factors [4, 5], there are studies that have identified individual differences that intensify intergroup conflict [6, 7, 8, 9]. In light of these individual difference variables, the current study investigates the way social dominance orientation (SDO; [10]) relates to the process of resolving intergroup conflict, particularly the relation between SDO and unwillingness to apologize.

The study was approved by the research ethics committee of Kobe University (school of law IRB, 29012). All participants signed the written informed consent at the beginning of the research.

Seven items regarding support for apologies and resistance to apologies were mutually correlated and showed a high level of internal consistency (α = .86; see S2 Table for the correlation matrix of the apology measures); thus, the seven item scores were averaged to a single score indicating participants’ willingness to apologize (General Apology: GA). The resistance scores were reverse coded. All seven items were standardized before the aggregation because the support scores and resistance scores were measured on different scales (namely 4-point and 11-point scales). This GA score showed significant and strong correlations with each of the seven individual items (rs > |.64|, see S3 Table). However, notice that the seven items consisted of conceptually distinctive groups: five war related items (Colonialism, Comfort Women, Kanto Massacre, General Resistance, and War Resistance) and two Fukushima related items (Fukushima Daiichi and Fukushima Resistance). In the main text, we report results associated with the three apology scores: GA, war apology (WA, α = .86), and Fukushima apology (FA, α = .79) (see S4 and S5 Tables for analyses of individual items).

This study demonstrated that SDO has a negative correlation with willingness to apologize in an intergroup context. Many studies have shown that individuals high in SDO tend to possess attitudes and behaviors (e.g., discriminatory and prejudicial) that are associated with factors that may escalate intergroup conflict. The current study provides additional insight into the relationship between SDO and conflict by showing that SDO is associated with reluctance to apologize. The effect of SDO on apologies remains significant after statistically controlling for the effects of Militarism and Conservatism. It should not be forgotten that conservatism indicates resistance to social change and preference for inequality, while militarism denotes hard-line attitudes toward interstate relationships. The independent effect of SDO, therefore, suggests that individuals high in SDO may avoid issuing apologies to other countries in order to prevent levelling of intergroup inequality. Issuing an apology is considered as an act to restore the victims’ power and status that has been damaged by the transgressors’ behavior [30]; thus, in the intergroup context, transgressors high in SDO might avoid apologies in order to prevent the victims’ status from approaching their own status.




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