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Power and Legitimizing Ideologies in Hierarchy-Enhancing vs. Hierarchy-Attenuating Environments



According to social dominance theory, intergroup dynamics are strongly influenced by the social positions which individuals hold in society. Several studies suggest that holding a position of power can, sometimes automatically, generate negative attitudes and hostile behaviors toward subordinate social groups. However, at present, the studies carried out on these effects of power have not taken into account the influence of the normative context. Based on the distinction made by Sidanius and Pratto between “hierarchy-enhancing” (HE) vs. “hierarchy-attenuating” (HA) environments, this study examines if the effects of power on legitimizing cognitions vary as a function of the normative environment. A laboratory study and a study conducted in a natural environment confirm our hypothesis that individuals holding a powerful or dominant social role in a HE setting differ significantly from individuals holding an equally powerful role in a HA setting. The effects of power observed in past research probably resulted from studying power in hierarchy-enhancing environments, but not in hierarchy-attenuating ones.