Changing students' views on social power through service learning
Margaret Brown, Associate Professor, Seattle Pacific University []


Keywords: Social dominance orientation, social justice, social power, psychology, intergroup helping

Track: Student development and learning

Format: Research paper

Date & time: Thursday 10:50-12:00
Location: Salon 1

Intergroup helping behavior by high status group members typically functions to support and further entrench systems of social hierarchy. This research examined whether service learning could increase support for more egalitarian group relations, as indexed by reduced social dominance orientation (SDO). College students (N = 114) in a psychology course were randomly assigned to a service learning group or a control group. The service learning group participated in 18 hours of community service over 9 weeks, and showed a significant decrease in SDO, compared to the control group. A second study (N = 110) replicated this effect.

Social dominance orientation (SDO) is an individual difference construct that describes one’s preference for hierarchy in a social system. Those who are high in SDO believe that it is appropriate for certain groups to dominate in society, while those who are low in SDO favor a more egalitarian approach to group relations. While SDO is generally stable over time, it can be influenced by social context and situational variables including helping behavior.

Given the stubborn persistence of universal systems of social hierarchy, strife over controversial social issues such as immigration reform, universal healthcare, and gay marriage seems unlikely to abate easily. In addition to tackling these issues separately through civic and political action, it is possible that engaging in service learning may create a productive and positive road to social justice. This research demonstrated that service learning was effective in changing levels of social dominance orientation, and contributes to a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of helping and intergroup relations.

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