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How social dominance orientation shapes perceptions of police

Belen Lowrey-Kinberg (St Francis College, New York, New York, USA)
Hillary Mellinger (American University, Washington, District of Columbia, USA)
Erin M. Kearns (University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 14 July 2020

Issue publication date: 8 August 2020




There remain several underaddressed issues in the procedural justice literature. The authors draw from a rich body of psychological research on how the sociopolitical orientation to group inequality influences individual views on government and apply this to perceptions of procedural justice.


This study uses a laboratory-style experimental design to examine the extent to which social dominance orientation (SDO) shapes how people view the language of law enforcement. Four treatments are tested: procedural justice, rapport, deference, and direct.


The authors find that, overall, exclusively emphasizing rapport – as opposed to procedural justice, deference, or directness – is not beneficial to fostering positive perceptions of police. Additionally, a higher SDO score is associated with lower perceptions of officer respect in the video and regardless of condition. Finally, while higher SDO score is correlated with greater trust in police (both a specific officer and the police in general), it is also associated with a lower sense of obligation to obey both the officer in the video and the police as an institution. Further, procedural justice or direct communication styles can attenuate the negative impact of SDO on views of police better than rapport or deference communication styles. Thus, the picture that emerges from this research is more nuanced than a straightforward relationship between SDO and support for police.


This study used an experimental design to examine for the first time the role that a sociopolitical orientation may play in procedural justice theory. While research finds strong links between procedural justice and increased cooperation with police, obligation to obey, and trust in police, few studies have delved into the individual-level factors that research has yet to delve into whether sociopolitical orientation may play a role in informing police actions and communication training.



Funding: American University Doctoral Student Research Award.


Lowrey-Kinberg, B., Mellinger, H. and Kearns, E.M. (2020), "How social dominance orientation shapes perceptions of police", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 43 No. 4, pp. 607-624.



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