Hierarchy, Dominance, and Deliberation: Egalitarian Values Require Mental Effort

Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2015 Sep;41(9):1207-22. doi: 10.1177/0146167215591961. Epub 2015 Jul 1.


Hierarchy and dominance are ubiquitous. Because social hierarchy is early learned and highly rehearsed, the value of hierarchy enjoys relative ease over competing egalitarian values. In six studies, we interfere with deliberate thinking and measure endorsement of hierarchy and egalitarianism. In Study 1, bar patrons' blood alcohol content was correlated with hierarchy preference. In Study 2, cognitive load increased the authority/hierarchy moral foundation. In Study 3, low-effort thought instructions increased hierarchy endorsement and reduced equality endorsement. In Study 4, ego depletion increased hierarchy endorsement and caused a trend toward reduced equality endorsement. In Study 5, low-effort thought instructions increased endorsement of hierarchical attitudes among those with a sense of low personal power. In Study 6, participants' thinking quickly allocated more resources to high-status groups. Across five operationalizations of impaired deliberative thought, hierarchy endorsement increased and egalitarianism receded. These data suggest hierarchy may persist in part because it has a psychological advantage.

Keywords: cognitive load; equality; hierarchy; low-effort thought; values.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology
  • Attitude
  • Female
  • Hierarchy, Social*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Morals
  • Social Dominance*
  • Thinking*
  • Young Adult