The Social Roots of Contemporary Prejudice


  • Ben Heylen Department of Criminology, Criminal Law and Social Law, Ghent University, Belgium
  • Lieven J.R. Pauwels Department of Criminology, Criminal Law and Social Law, Ghent University, Belgium



Prejudice, right wing authoritarianism, social dominance orientation, evolutionary theory


Background: Evolutionary theory suggests prejudice may be a result of the evolution of human sociality. In this study, we investigate this claim by integrating theoretical insights of evolutionary theory with the well-established social psychological research on prejudice centering on Right Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) and Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) as the main predictors of prejudice.

Method: First, we developed two different signaling scales, probing respondents’ propensity to signal group commitment in a genuine or deceptive way. We administered a questionnaire consisting of the two signaling measures, RWA, SDO and prejudice measures to 1380 students. Analysis of the data was done using structural equation modeling.

Results: Our results indicate that genuine signaling of one’s commitment to the in-group is positively associated with RWA, and that deceptively signaling one’s commitment to the in-group is positively associated with SDO. Both RWA and SDO are positively related to prejudice.

Conclusion: Our study is the first to empirically reveal the pro-social roots of prejudice using classical measurement instruments. The findings give rise to a new array of research questions.


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How to Cite

Heylen, B., & Pauwels, L. J. (2015). The Social Roots of Contemporary Prejudice. International Journal of Criminology and Sociology, 4, 28–35.