The Psychology of Social Status: Summary & Review

The Psychology of Social Status (2014) is a social psychology textbook that provides an overview of the academic research on the topic of social status.

the psychology of social status book cover

Exec Summary 

  • Status is the “social worth” that people assign to an individual within a group
  • Social status is the normal byproduct of human hierarchies
  • Human hierarchies are a staple of human socialization, albeit different groups present flatter or steeper hierarchies with larger differences between levels


About the Authors:
Joey T. Cheng, Jessica L. Tracy, Jerome H. Barkow, Cameron Anderson, Robb Willer, Steven L. Blader, Ya-Ru Chen, Cameron Anderson, Jon Cowan, Nancy M. Blaker, Mark van Vugt, Sara Kafashan, Adam Sparks, Vladas Griskevicius, Pat Barclay, Mark R. Leary, Katrina P. Jongman-Sereno, Kate J. Diebels, Christopher von Rueden, Conor M. Steckler, Nathanael J. Fast, Priyanka D. Joshi, Michael S. North, Susan T. Fiske, Erik L. Knight, Pranjal H. Mehta, Narun Pornpattananangkul, Caroline F. Zink, Joan Y. Chiao, Judith A. Hall, Ioana Maria Latu, Dana R. Carney, Marianne Schmid Mast, Aaron C. Weidman

Definition of Status-Related Concepts

The definitions closest to status and power:

  • Power refers to control over critical resources—i.e., outcome control (Dépret and Fiske 1993; Fiske 2010; Galinsky et al. 2003; Georgesen and Harris 1998, 2000; Gruenfeld et al. 2008; Keltner et al. 2003; Overbeck and Park 2001)
  • Socioeconomic status (SES) refers to an individual’s (or a family’s) social position in relation to others, based on wealth, education, and occupation (Kraus and Keltner 2009)
  • Dominance and prestige have been described in various ways:
    • dominance as those approaches to achieving high social rank that are characterized by induction of fear in others (for instance, through aggression, coercion, and withholding resources).
    • prestige refers to approaches to achieving high social rank that are characterized by gaining respect from others for one’s skills and competence, particularly when these help achieve collective goals (Henrich and Gil-White 2001).
      Prestige is, perhaps, the social hierarchical dimension most closely tied to status.
  • Influence refers to the ability to shape and alter others’ views and/or behavior. Influence is a downstream consequence of any of these social hierarchy-related constructs

Are Definitions Important, Or Are They All The Same?

Blader and Ya-Ru Chen, the authors of chapter 4, say that a common argument, even among those who accept the distinct definitions above, is that those distinctions are not meaningful.

According to this view, the distinctions aren’t very meaningful because covariation among these distinctions is very strong—e.g., status invariably leads to power, or vice-versa.

Blader and Ya-Ru Chen disagree with this point of view.

Here at TPM we agree with the authors, but don’t make strong distinctions and operate under the assumption that those constructs are similar. The reason for our approach is that our priority is to help students. So our focus is goal achievement and self-advancement, rather than academic accuracy.

So while we agree the constructs are different, if our students 10x their status, they win. And if they 10x their power, they also win.

Status VS Power

Say the authors in a previous chapter:

Although there are important similarities between power and status, the two concepts are quite notably distinct. Whereas status refers to a form of influence and control that arises spontaneously in everyday social situations, power involves formally endowed control over valued resources, often resulting from institutionally legitimized positions in the workplace, politics, or broader society.

So in this case, they seem to refer to power to what we call here “rank”.
And here at TPM we use “power” as more of a general umbrella term.

Status is more of a social dimension:

One critical difference between status and power is that status, relative to power, is more reliant on the judgments and evaluations of others. It relies more on a conferral process, as discussed earlier. Therefore, power is relatively more of a property of the actor (i.e., the power-holder), while status is relatively more of a property of co-actors and observers (Fragale et al. 2011; Magee and Galinsky 2008)

However, even power isn’t wholly independent of others:

That is not to say that power is wholly independent of co-actors and observers; if others do not agree that a target has power, they will not engage in acts—such as deference—that can be important in reinforcing the target’s power position. Moreover, others may challenge the value of the resource that the power-holder target controls, again giving co-actors and observers a significant role even in power dynamics.

High-Status Men Empathize, High Power Men Are Ruthless

While power “allows” people to disregard others, status does the opposite.

High-status men actually seem to acquire higher EQ:

the researchers found that high status increased accuracy in reading others’ emotions , while high power had the precisely opposite effect

That includes higher empathy for the plight of others:

both self-reported and behavioral indices demonstrated that high status made participants more concerned about the (fictitious) target affected by the layoff, while power had the opposite effect on concern about the target .

Dominance and Prestige: 2 Mein Paths to Social Rank

A definition of hierarchy:

hierarchies are fundamentally social structures in which high-ranking individuals reliably receive greater influence , deference, attention , and valued resources than low-ranking others (Homans 1950, 1961; Magee and Galinsky 2008; Mazur 1973, 1985)

Hierarchies exist to divide resources while avoiding costs and increasing cooperation:

By affording high-ranking individuals privileged influence and access to valued resources such as mates and food, mutually accepted hierarchical relationships minimize costly agonistic conflicts, establish order, and facilitate coordination and cooperation among individuals in groups (Báles 1950; Berger et al. 1980).

The dominance and prestige model postulates that dominance and prestige are the two main and distinct pathways to social rank:

This account proposes that differences in hierarchical rank within human social groups are the result of both: (a) coerced deference to dominant others who induce fear by virtue of their ability to inflict physical or psychological harm (i.e., Dominance) and (b) freely conferred deference to prestigious others who possess valued skills and abilities (i.e., Prestige).

The main differences between the two are:

  • Dominance entails the induction of fear, through intimidation and coercion, to attain or maintain rank and influence.
    It is thought to be homologous with dominance hierarchical systems in nonhuman primates that result from agonistic contests (Chase et al. 2002; Rowell 1974). Examples are between police and citizen, bully and victim, or boss and employee. The threats can be both physical or psychological, but among humans they’re more often psychological
  • Prestige refers to influence that is willingly granted to individuals who are recognized and respected for their skills, success, or knowledge.
    Subordinates seek out the opinions and company of Prestigious individuals in efforts to imitate and learn their superior skills or knowledge.

Dominance Is Costly For Morale & Output (But Still Can Promote Rank)

research on organizational effectiveness has found that “pressure” tactics—which involve the use of demands, threat, and intimidation to influence others (and thus are akin to Dominance)—generally result in less successful and productive leadership (…)


a growing body of evidence appears to suggest that not only is Dominance-based leadership seen as an ineffective approach and frequently resisted by subordinates (e.g., Falbe and Yukl 1992; Kipnis and Schmidt 1988; Yukl and Tracey 1992), but it can also bear counterproductive effects on workplace performance and subordinate commitment (e.g., Falbe and Yukl 1992; Higgins et al. 2003; Yukl et al. 1996).

However, add the authors, these findings do not represent evidence against Dominance’s ability to promote social rank for the dominant individual

Personality of Prestigious VS Dominant Individuals

Say the authors regarding prestigious individuals:

in the context of a small-scale Amazonian society, perceived prestige is positively related to hunting ability, skill in food production, generosity, number of allies, and nutritional status (Reyes-Garcia et al. 2008, 2009; von Rueden et al. 2008).
other prosocial traits that effectively broadcast one’s expertise and social attractiveness (i.e., his/her viability as a cultural model), such as altruism, cooperativeness, helpfulness, ethicality, concern for the public good, are positively related to Prestige, but negatively to Dominance (Cheng et al. 2010; Maner and Mead 2010, 2012).

While dominant:

In contrast, Dominance is associated with a selfish disregard for the well-being of one’s group. For example, when presented with a choice between personal benefits and collective success, Dominant leaders prioritize their own gains over those of others (Maner and Mead 2010, 2012).
individuals who pursue Dominance tend to be fueled by the arrogant, conceit-based “hubristic” pride, whereas those who pursue Prestige are fueled by a more pro-social, competence-based “authentic” pride (Cheng et al. 2010)


  • Highly likable
  • highly agentic
  • highly communal
  • lower-levels of basal Testosterone (Johnson et al. 2007) and a lower androgenic hormone linked to aggression (Giammanco et al. 2005)
  • demonstrate locally valued competencies and skills
  • socially attractive verbal style that entails displaying warmth and self-deprecation (e.g., teasing others in a flattering way, seeking the group’s approval on matters)
  • display more subtle, nonthreatening movements that communicate confidence and competence, such as the pride display (e.g., small smile, head tilt up, chest expansion)
  • not associated with systematic changes in vocal pitch
  • they rate themselves as conscientious, agreeable, and possessing high self-esteem


  • Not particularly well-liked
  • highly agentic
  • low communality
  • do not necessarily demonstrate locally valued competencies and skills
  • intimidating and self-entitling verbal style that evokes fear and coercion (e.g., teasing others in a dominant way, forcefully pushing one’s own ideas or opinions)
  • spatially expansive postural displays (e.g., wide postures) in group situations
  • deepen their vocal pitch in the initial minutes of an unscripted social interaction
  • they rate themselves as aggressive, disagreeable, narcissistic, and manipulative

6 Traits of Dominant Individuals

Six separate lines of lines of work show an association between actual or perceived ability to inflict harm and elevated social influence:

1. coercion and aggression

According to the Dominance-Prestige Account, direct or indirect displays of physical, psychological, or verbal aggression are the primary routes through which Dominant individuals attain influence.

And it seems to work:

Studies on hierarchical relationships suggest that the enactment of these aggressive behaviors are effective in promoting increased rank: Those who behave in a bullying, rude, demeaning, and anti-social manner in both experimental contexts (e.g., Van Kleef et al. 2011) and real-world relationships (e.g., romantic couples, fraternity members) tend to be the more highly ranked and influential members of the relationship (Keltner et al. 1998; Kipnis et al. 1976).


studies have found that the highest-level of abusive behavior is displayed by those who feel incompetent (i.e., who lack Prestige), suggesting that aggression may provide a means of attaining influence when the Prestige pathway is inaccessible (Fast and Chen 2009; Fast et al. 2012

2. Personality dominance

substantial body of evidence indicates that personality dominance is associated with higher rank and leadership attainment. Meta-analyses of over 30 studies and 7,000 individuals demonstrate that trait dominance is one of the most robust predictors of leader emergence, outperforming a myriad of other traits including conscientiousness and intelligence (Judge et al. 2002; Lord et al. 1986).

3. Physical size and strength

larger and stronger individuals tend to be more aggressive


Both men and women who are taller in stature consistently occupy a disproportionate number of leadership positions in organizations, and have a higher income (see Judge and Cable 2004). Moreover, the human mind is biased toward intuitively associating larger size with greater formidability, power and influence, and leadership capacity (Fessler et al. 2012; Marsh et al. 2009; Schubert et al. 2009; Stulp et al. 2013).

The direction goes both ways though:

Observers tend to overestimate the height of powerful others (Dannenmaier and Thumin 1964; Wilson 1968), and systematically overestimate the height of a target individual when feeling powerless, but underestimate this individual’s height when feeling powerful (Yap et al. 2013).

4. Facial structure

Facial Structure Facial width-to-height ratio (WHR)—a sexually dimorphic trait influenced by testosterone (e.g., Andersson 1994; Lefevre et al. 2013; Verdonck et al. 1999)—has been shown to systematically predict men’s fighting ability, physical prowess, and rates of violence and aggression in both the lab and the real-world
men with greater facial WHR demonstrate an increased propensity to cheat and exploit others (Haselhuhn and Wong 2012; Stirrat and Perrett 2010), and are less likely to die from contact violence
Most importantly, wider-faced men are viewed as more dominant, forceful, and assertive by others (Alrajih and Ward in-press; Valentine et al. in-press), report a heightened sense of power and influence (Haselhuhn and Wong 2012), and achieve superior leadership performance, as evidenced by the financial earnings of CEO’s firms (Wong et al. 2011).

5. Vocal pitch

Vocal Pitch Like facial WHR, lower vocal pitch is associated with higher levels of circulating testosterone (Dabbs and Mallinger 1999; Evans et al. 2008; Puts et al. 2012)

Poeple also consciously lower their voices:

individuals who perceive themselves as physically stronger than a rival strategically (but likely unconsciously) lower their voices in competitive contexts, whereas those who view themselves as weaker tend to raise their pitch (Puts et al. 2006)

And even consciously lowering one’s voice seems to have an impact on how people feel about themselves:

participants instructed to deepen their pitch report a greater subjective sense of power (Stel et al. 2012

6. Spatially expansive nonverbal displays

numerous studies have demonstrated that spatially expansive, open postures—such as pride displays and open arm and leg gestures—not only increase the perceived influence and rank of their displayers across cultures (Carney et al. 2005; Marsh et al. 2009; Shariff and Tracy 2009; Tracy and Matsumoto 2008), but also tend to be spontaneously adopted by powerful leaders or winners of physical fights (Tracy and Matsumoto 2008; for a review, see Hall et al. 2005). In contrast, losers of such battles, and followers, tend to adopt complementary constricting postures, which signal their deference and subordination (Tiedens and Fragale 2003; Weisfeld and Beresford 1982).

About Prestige…

Unluckily, the authors only list two corresponding traits for prestige: locally valued skills and expertise, and altruism and generosity.

Fitness-Related Outcomes

Both dominance and prestige appear to facilitate success in survival, resource acquisition, mate attraction, and reproduction.

However, how and when the two are more attractive depends on the situation.
Say the authors:

women generally indicate a preference for male targets described as Prestigious over those described as Dominant.
(But) highly Dominant men (relative to less Dominant men) are deemed no less—and in some contexts (such as in a competition) even more—attractive and desirable as short-term mates (Sadalla et al. 1987; Snyder et al. 2008).

When it comes to health, it’s possible that dominance may be more costly and thus producer worse health outcomes:

Prestigious villagers in Tsimane’, a small-scale forager-farmer society, tend to more healthy than the average group member (on the basis of current nutritional status) , whereas no effect was observed for Dominance (Reyes-Garcia et al. 2009). This distinction may result from the theoretical expectation that Dominance depends on frequent assertions of intimidation and threat which would entail greater biological costs (including increased stress) compared to Prestige—given that Prestigious individuals acquire access to resources and privileges through freely conferred deference. These biological costs might wash out the nutritional benefits that should accompany the greater flow of resources to those who effectively invoke Dominance.

My Note:
I suspect the numbers here were too low to generalize

What still mattered a lot in the Tsimane (and other tribes) was social support:

Longitudinal data confirms the cross-sectional result: larger and more skilled Tsimane men gained more social support over a 4-year period, and increase in social support (but not increase in size or skill per se) associated with increased political influence
The prominence of social support to status acquisition among the Tsimane accords with other ethnographic reports.

Prestige Can Also Be Faked/Manipulated

Say the authors:

Importantly, Prestige is largely accorded on the basis of perceived, rather than actual, competence and expertise, which explains why Prestige and rank allocation tend to be strongly influenced by competence cues.

And on the role of confidence:

assessments of competence are often based on observable cues of confidence, such as degree of certainty expressed and amount of talking (Anderson and Kilduff 2009b; Littlepage et al. 1995), and nonverbal displays of pride (Steckler and Tracy, Chap. 10, this volume).

Also see:

Why Teachers Disempower You (Teacher-Pupil Frames)

Status Is A Multi-Endeavor Competition In Humans

We compete for status in numerous domains:

in the context of these multiple selection pressures, however, “primate agonistic dominance would have gradually broadened into the modern multiple-criteria sets of human prestige” (Barkow 1989, p. 187) . Once hominins began to compete in areas other than agonistic dominance, the way was opened to competition in numerous other domains. Geoffrey Miller (Miller 1998, 2000a, b) argues that much of human psychology—a sense of humor, art, music, verbal skill, indeed, almost any skill domain—are products of sexual selection.

And we brag about the domains where we feel we’re good at:

Because we each participate in multiple prestige arenas, we may strategize in our daily interactions. For example, when I meet a stranger, I may mention the garden I am proud of; on finding that the other has a far larger and more beautiful garden than my own, I may move the competition from skill and knowledge of gardening to golf or to cuisine.

We Revert Back to Raw Power & Dominance When Society Reverts to Its Most Basic State

Control over resources and the capacity for physical violence seem to be the bottom line of human social hierarchy. When societies disintegrate, or when colonial conquest destroys existing sets of prestige criteria, these remain. The news media may refer to the new leaders as “warlords” or “gang leaders,” but it is these figures, who control resources and violence, who become the respected, the prestigious, the people from whom children learn.

Cultures Vary In The Role That Violence Plays Around Status

Cultures clearly differ in the extent to which recourse to violence, or at least threat, is compatible with respect and prestige. Honor cultures, as described by Nisbett and Cohen (1996), appear to link rank, prestige, and capacity for effective violence, as do the Yanomamö (Chagnon 1977).

Personality of High-Status Individuals

  • High extraversion helps. An abundance of research has shown a strong and consistent relationship between extraversion and status. Multiple reviews of the emergent leadership literature have shown that extroverts tend to emerge as leaders in groups more than introverts (Bass 2008; Judge et al. 2002; Mann 1959; Stogdill 1948). Even longitudinal studies that assess the attainment of status over long periods of time have found similar results.
  • Traits dominance matters a lot. Vast evidence links trait dominance to the attainment of status in groups. dominance involves the tendency to behave in assertive, forceful, and self-assured ways, including speaking more, displaying a commitment to the group’s success and exhibiting more outward signals of competence such as volunteering answers and providing problem-relevant information.
    But it’s different than from the “dominance” construct articulated by Cheng, Tracy, and Henrich (e.g., Cheng et al. 2010; Cheng and Tracy, this volume, Chap. 1) because it doesn’t necessarily include inducing fear or intimidating others (Gough 1987), but instead centers on assertive and self-assured behavior
  • Agreeableness is unrelated or even negatively related to status attainment.
  • Conscientiousness helps in project teams or at work. Conscientious individuals attain higher status in task-focused contexts such as project teams or workplaces, but not necessarily in other contexts.
  • Neuroticism lowers your status. Research has consistently shown neuroticism relates to lower status -and especially so for men-
  • Openness to experience may help a bit, but not much. It has been linked to status attainment, though the evidence is weaker and less abundant than for other personality traits.
  • Self-monitoring may help. Self-monitors, out of a concern for social appropriateness, are particularly sensitive to the expression and self-presentation of others in social situations and use these cues as guidelines for monitoring their own self-presentation”. Self-monitors desire status and are more likely to emerge as leaders in task groups.
  • Narcissism is a mixed bag with some traits that help and others that do not. Desire for status and self-confidence help. The selfishness side of narcissism may hurt, say the authors (albeit I’m not convinced).
    In support of the “mixed hypothesis”, Paunonen et al. (2006) found that military cadets who possessed the “brighter” side of narcissism (i.e., self-confidence) were more often rated as leaders by peers. In contrast, cadets who possess more of the “darker” side of narcissism (e.g., manipulativeness) were not rated as leaders.
    My note: in my opinion, what’s most damaging to status is the “vulnerable narcissism” subtype with fragile ego, the need for validation, and high sensitivity to rejections (which leads them to take little chances in life, including in leadership)
  • Perceived as providing value

The Traits to Gain Status

  • Competence. Status is often based on judgments of the person’s competence in domains that are important to the observer
  • Smart self-promotion: (…) ensure that their skills and successes are known by others and that their shortcomings and failures remain hidden. Thus, self-presentations involving knowledge, competence, and skill—what Jones and Pittman (1982) referred to as “self-promotion”—figure prominently in the pursuit of status.
  • Confidence. An indirect route to being viewed as competent is to convey an air of confidence. Because competent people are, on average, more confident than less competent ones, observers sometimes use confidence as a proxy for competence (Areni and Sparks 2005; Price and Stone 2004). In fact, when people are induced to be overconfident, observers infer that they have higher status (Anderson et al. 2012)
  • Dominance: people ascribe greater competence to dominant people
  • Obtaining and displaying resources. (…) almost anything that benefits—or might potentially benefit—other people.
  • Using resources to make the group better off: study showed that people who contributed more money to a group were perceived as having higher status than people who contributed less. Not surprisingly, they were also more influential and engendered more cooperation on the part of other group members (Willer 2009).
    People who display signs of wealth often have status because they have the potential to benefit others.
  • Benefting the group and other members: leaders who more effectively address the needs of other people foster perceptions of competence and credibility, enhance trust, and gain power (Blass and Ferris 2007).
  • Strategic predisposition to achieve goals. The authors call it “political skills”, but it feels like a misnomer to me: “people who possess “political skill” (e.g., social astuteness, behavioral flexibility, adaptability) more effectively address a variety of individual needs and promote individual and group goal accomplishment. Thus, political skill may contribute to perceptions of status both because it is valued by others in its own right and because the politically astute leader is able to discern how to facilitate the attainment of group goals and promote his or her instrumental social value”
  • Effort, sacrifice, and loyalty to the group or cause: status is facilitated by indications that the person is a loyal and devoted group member who has the best interests of the group at heart and will occasionally sacrifice his or her personal interests for the benefit of the group or relationship.
    For that reason, employees who put extra effort into their jobs are often accorded higher status (Allen and Rush 1998; Podsakoff and MacKenzie 1997).
  • Trappings and Signals of Social Status: displaying symbols that connote status

Don’t Confuse Acceptance For Status

Say the authors:

people gain positive outcomes both by being liked (and accepted) and by being respected (and having status). However, in their everyday lives, people sometimes conflate acceptance and status and erroneously use tactics to seek status that are actually more appropriate for seeking acceptance, and vice versa.

Some examples of confusing the two:

For example, in many instances in which people attempt to impress casual acquaintances with their skills, knowledge, and accomplishments, they are using self-presentations that are relevant to status when, in fact, they are trying to be liked and accepted. Similarly, people who try to increase their relational value by being successful or working hard may become hurt or disappointed when such efforts do not not automatically endear other people to them.

Some people who pursued personal success and accomplished may also feel isolated or even resentful when success gives them status, but not necessarily liking, care, or love.

Status and Acceptance Are Sometimes Opposites

For example, displaying value may give one status, but make them more disliked.

Say the authors:

touting characteristics or resources that reflect one’s social instrumental value, may appear highly self-promoting (which they are), and convey that one is superior to other people in certain respects, generate competitiveness with other group members, or evoke envy. Such reactions may undermine the person’s perceived relational value , along with liking and acceptance.

And some seem to be unconsciously aware of it:

the more that people want to be accepted, the more they underestimate their status in their own mind (Anderson et al. 2006). This finding again suggests that people recognize a trade-off between social acceptance and social status and that people’s desire for acceptance and belonging

How to Strike A Balance

One way in which people can achieve this balance is to demonstrate their instrumental social value in terms of relational and communal outcomes.

This is also a technique we share in our article for combining femininity and power:

Feminine AND Powerful: 9 Tips For Women Bosses

And say the authors:

People can contribute to collective outcomes not only through their competence and provision of material resources but also by fostering positive relationships among group members. Not only do people enjoy memberships in groups in which they have positive relationships but cohesive groups tend to perform better than noncohesive, conflicted ones (Anderson et al. 2006).
Because those who promote positive relationships are usually viewed as warm and likeable people, people who desire social approval can attain both status and approval by being relational experts within a group.

Finally, social skills, a giving attitude and charisma also serve both for status and acceptance.

Personality Matters In Status VS Acceptance Preferences

Narcissists prefer status and power.
People high in approval motivation who want status face a dilemma because they also want acceptance.

Not Everyone Cares About Status, Everyone Cares About Acceptance

Say the authors:

having low status does not appear to evoke strong reactions across the number and variety of situations as does being rejected.
People act as if they should be relationally valued and accepted by virtually everyone they meet. In contrast, people spend much of their daily lives in contexts in which their instrumental social value (and, thus, status) is low, but they do not appear to have strong reactions to most of these situations.

This is why judge power moves of rejection and dislike are so powerful:

The Judge Role: A Tool For Emotional Control


TPM Take: Power Beats Status

Since status is more others-related, high-status people also need others more:

since status relies on others, concerns about maintaining one’s status will orient status-holders outward, as they will be focused on monitoring where they stand vis-à-vis the status-conferral process
As such, high-status parties (who presumably wish to maintain their high-status position) will not only be vigilant about monitoring status-conferral processes but will also be particularly vigilant about maintaining social relations in a manner that prompts continued respect and esteem from others. That is, they will strive to fulfill others’ expectations that high-status parties show consideration and act in a manner that warrants their high-status position (Blader and Chen 2012; Ridgeway 1978, 1982)

Instead, say the authors themselves, power liberates people:

This description of the effects of status stands in stark contrast to the effects of power, which liberates people from social and normative pressures and enables them to shift their focus inward, toward their own goals and dispositions (Galinsky et al. 2008; Guinote 2007; Keltner et al. 2003).

Of course, with power there can be some risks to the collective and to anyone who strives to be a value-giver:

Indeed, power can prompt an egocentric orientation to social encounters (Fiske 2010; Galinsky et al. 2006; Lee and Tiedens 2001). As such, power makes people less attentive to and concerned about others (Galinsky et al. 2006) and thus may also make them less concerned about others’ impressions of them .

But this is why here we also work to develop our character :).

You Gain Status By Giving… Or By Punishing The Takers

People can gain status not only by giving or helping others but by enforcing norms of cooperation.
? Barclay (2006) used a cooperative group game to show that people readily paid to punish those who do not contribute toward a group fund that benefited all group members, and that the people who paid such costs were perceived by other participants as being more respected, trustworthy, and group-focused than nonpunishers. Those who punished noncontributors were also entrusted with more money, demonstrating a tangible benefit for enforcing norms (see also Nelissen 2008).

Punishing freeloaders also helps the group because people contribute more when noncontributors can receive punishment.

You Can’t Always Be Vulnerable & Maintain Status

Vulnerability can be costly for status.

And especially so for certain professions where “strength” or “stoicism” are expected or advantageous:

For example, most people who regularly face danger in the course of their jobs—such as police officers, fire fighters, and many members of the military—are not as confident and calm in the face of danger as their visage may suggest. And everyone realizes that, as normal human beings, people in these roles are sometimes uncertain and afraid. Yet, to openly display uncertainty or fear to the public would likely result in a loss of status because, from the public’s standpoint, the instrumental social value of an uncertain or fearful police officer, fire fighter, or soldier is arguably lower than that a confident and fearless one.
Thus, role demands require that people in such fields maintain a public image of confidence, fearlessness, and strength no matter how they may actually feel. Similarly, everyone knows that teachers sometimes become fed-up with their students, but a teacher who fails to maintain an image of imperturbability by screaming at students or complaining to parents will suffer a loss of status.

Read more in:

Vulnerability Is NOT Power: Don’t Believe The Hype

Local Prestige May Struggle Against Social Media Fame

Modern media, first the movies and now the internet, arguably may be turning the whole planet into Duduguru by breaking the ancient chain of cultural transmission. This is because the media present to us figures who apparently have more prestige than do our locally respected characters.

On the other hand, I’d add, is also an opportunity for those who can make it big on social media.

More Wisdom

Types of “Pride”: Hubristic VS Authentic

Hubristic pride refers to pride marked by feelings of arrogance and conceit, while authentic pride refers to pride marked by feelings of accomplishment, confidence, and success (Tracy and Robins 2004). Hubristic pride is highly antisocial, whereas authentic pride is socially valued.

Physical Formidability Helps Gaining Status

height and muscularity increase perceptions of status and leadership which confirms the status–size hypothesis. Yet the size–prestige relationship depends upon the nature of the situation. This is especially the case for muscular people whose prestige increased only during war for male targets, presumably because physical strength of a leader is a valuable instrument in intergroup conflict, certainly in ancestral times.

And when it comes to height VS muscularity:

Whereas height is related to attributions of dominance- and prestige-based status across a number of situations, muscularity is much more a dominance indicator.

Equalitarian Societies Award Less “Status Premium” To Size

In more equalitarian societies, taller men weren’t seen as more dominant:

a study conducted among people of the Tsimane—a relatively egalitarian farming-foraging society in the Bolivian Amazon—shows that although individuals agree that taller adults are physically stronger, they do not perceive taller people as socially more dominant—that is, when two people have conflicting interests, whose interests are acted upon—or as more knowledgeable (Undurraga et al. 2012)

Or more prestigious (albeit prestige is less tied to size anyway):

Another study conducted in the Bolivian rain forest showed that physical size did not predict community-wide influence, a sign of prestige (Von Rueden et al. 2008)

So the authors speculate:

Considering that these null effects were found in relatively egalitarian societies, which reflects the conditions in our ancestral past, they suggest that perhaps a certain level of experience with social inequality is required to associate height with prestige and good socioeconomic outcomes (cf. Stulp 2013)

Low Status People Are More Other-Oriented (Unless The Group Is Under Threat… )

with heightened vulnerability to external forces and dependence on others comes a greater need to understand others’ goals and feelings.
(…) higher status people tend to be more self-oriented, and lower status people more other-oriented, in their thoughts and feelings (Krauss et al. 2011).
higher class individuals are more likely to perform or endorse unethical behaviors including lying in negotiations, cheating to win cash, cutting off other drivers in violation of traffic laws, taking candy from children, and engaging in unethical business practices.

However, if the group is under threat, then high-status individuals have a vested interest in keeping the group and the group norms alive since it provides them with plenty of benefits.
And they also have a vested interest to be seen as givers when their status is at stake:

(higher status individuals) they may benefit more than low status individuals from helping behaviors that preserve group stability and viability, such as vigilance, group defense, and enforcement of group norms.
The noblesse oblige phenomenon involves more generosity (e.g., tolerance of noncompliance, financial donations) by high-status individuals, but only in situations where status differentials are clearly invoked.
That noblesse oblige serves a status maintenance function seems consistent with other anthropological findings.

Lying is Risky For Status

people who misrepresent their personal characteristics lose face and are sometimes negatively sanctioned (Goffman 1959; Schlenker 1980). Thus, people are constrained in the images that they can present to others by what others know or might find out about them

Status VS Power

  • Fair people are assumed to be high status, unfair ones high-power: fairness is positively associated with status but negatively associated with power. Unfairness enhances perceived power because it is seen as an indication that the actor has little relational concern for others, and this lack of concern is interpreted as meaning that the actor must possess high power.
    In contrast, fairness enhances perceived status because it is seen as showing that the actor has high relational concern for others, a characteristic associated with being held in high esteem
  • Men prefer power, women status: In all three studies, men desired power more than women did, and women desired status more than men did.
    Hays (2013) associated the preference for status with characteristics such as high need for affiliation and high interdependence, traits more commonly found among women (who corresponding with the results of Fragale et al. (2011), are typically seen as having more warmth). Preferences for power are associated with characteristically male traits of high need for power and high independence

Both Value-Giving & Value-Taking Ability Matters to Gain Status

Social status is granted to those individuals widely perceived as best able to inflict costs or confer benefits on others (Henrich and Gil-White 2001).

People Want To Be Close to High-Status Individuals

People seek social proximity to the strong, skilled, generous, and wealthy because of the knowledge and material goods they might acquire (Henrich and Gil-White 2001) and because of the indirect social value of association with powerful individuals.


A definition of status:

Status is an index of the social worth that observers ascribe to an individual or a group (Chen et al. 2012),

On “going green”:

The “going green to be seen” studies suggest that many choices that appear altruistic often belie a deeper desire for status that comes from appearing altruistic.

And the marketing takeaway:

sometimes increasing the price of a green product can lead that product to become more desirable because it signals that purchasers are prepared to incur costs.

On dominance and prestige:

human hierarchies are the product of our species’ evolved tendency to submit to those who wield force and intimidation, and to follow and learn from those who garner respect and admiration.

We’re all naturally agonistic and potentially aggressive:

We remain primates, however: lurking beneath all competition in symbolic spheres is agonism (Barkow 1975; Barkow et al. 2012). If I lose in symbolic competition with you, I may grow angry and physically assault you, or at least want to.


Some information repeats

The repetition of information is a very common issue in textbooks written by different authors.
But it’s not a good reason not to avoid it.

That being said, this was one of the textbooks that repeated the least information, so well done to the authors and editors.

Could have picked one single definition of status

Across the book, there may be something like 10 definitions for “status”.

Few passages felt a bit naive

Say the authors:

Why Do Individuals High in Neuroticism Attain Lower Status? On the surface, it is not entirely clear why neuroticism is such a consistent predictor of lower status in groups.

It’s actually pretty clear to me.
Also see our alpha male article for an overview of gaining status among men.

Indeed, in another chapter different researchers say:

In general, anxious, insecure, and introverted people are probably accorded less status because they are (unfairly) perceived to be less competent than calm, secure, outspoken people (Anderson et al. 2001).


You can’t beat a great book based on research, written by smart researchers.


The Psychology of Social Status is the best overview on the topic of social status and one of the most informative textbooks I have read.

I am very grateful to the authors who took the time to provide such a helpful overview of the full literature, and did such a great job at it.

It will be a resource that I will use and cite more than once for our articles and products.

And that’s always the biggest compliment I can pay to any resource I consume.

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