Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Social dominance theory (SDT) proposes a basic human nature to form social hierarchies based on social group membership with dominant and subordinate social groups. These social hierarchies are maintained through legitimizing myths, or beliefs that work to frame the existing social system as fair by suggesting that individuals receive the social status they deserve based on their actions and contributions to society as opposed to their group membership. The level at which an individual wants to maintain social hierarchies is indicated by their Social Dominance Orientation (SDO). SDT has been extensively studied in the context of race, gender, and age but this dissertation aimed to expand the research by establishing a health-based social hierarchy that would influence health related beliefs and judgements. I first ran a correlational study to explore the relationship between SDO and various health beliefs and behaviors. I then ran a study that aimed to establish the uniqueness of this health hierarchy which found that people high in SDO tended to blame and dislike an individual who got sick and died regardless of their race or even how healthy they were prior to getting sick, suggesting their judgments are irrespective of the race of a target. Finally, I tested a perspective-taking empathy intervention that aimed to decrease blame and increase feelings of liking. While the intervention was unsuccessful in changing attitudes towards the target in the story, the study did replicate the results from study 2. Taken together, the findings from these three studies suggest that there is a robust relationship between SDO, health beliefs, and attitudes towards sick individuals, suggesting the existence of a social hierarchy based on health.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.