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Three studies translate social dominance theory to policing, testing the relationship between individual officers’ endorsement of social hierarchies and their tendency to use force against residents. This article demonstrates a link between officer psychological factors and force. Because police are empowered to use force to maintain social order, and because White officers hold a dominant racial identity, we hypothesized social dominance orientation (SDO) would relate to force positively for White officers. For Black officers, we hypothesized a weak relationship between SDO and force, if any. To test these predictions, we examined the relationships between SDO and force using negative binomial regression models stratified by officer race. In an eastern city, SDO relates to force incidents positively for White officers and negatively for Black officers. In a southern city, SDO relates to force positively for White officers, and not significantly for Black officers. Stratified by race and rank, a second eastern city shows a marginally significant, positive SDO/force relationship for White patrol officers, and no significant SDO/force relationship for Black patrol officers. Finally, testing our hypotheses on a dataset pooled across these cities revealed a positive SDO/force relationship among White officers, and no significant SDO/force relationship among Black officers. These findings are consistent with our hypotheses and suggest a need to examine the role that maintaining social hierarchies plays in police behaviors. Future research must continue to investigate these relationships, especially with larger samples of non-White officers, and information about officers’ patrol environments.


This work was originally published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, available at doi:10.1073/pnas.2007693118/-/DCSupplemental.

This open access article is distributed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-
NoDerivatives License 4.0 (CC BY-NC-ND).


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