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Gender Differences in Social Dominance Orientation: The Role of Cognitive Complexity


The present research examined the invariance hypothesis, which predicts lower levels of social dominance orientation (SDO) for women compared to men even when accounting for other factors. Previous research shows that gender linked variables mediate the gender difference in SDO. In two studies using undergraduates in the northeastern U.S., we tested mediation by cognitive complexity, a variable linked to social status but not to gender. Study 1 (n = 117) found that women had higher levels of attributional complexity, but not need for cognition. Study 2 (n = 206) further found that attributional complexity mediated the relationship between gender and SDO, suggesting that higher cognitive complexity due to low social status may be involved in gender differences in SDO.

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Portions of this paper were presented at the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues 2008 conference.

The authors thank Kate Jassin for her comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

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Correspondence to Rob Foels.

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Foels, R., Reid, L.D. Gender Differences in Social Dominance Orientation: The Role of Cognitive Complexity. Sex Roles 62, 684–692 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-010-9775-5

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  • Social dominance orientation
  • Gender differences
  • Cognitive complexity