Document 14641547

Status and its functions: Implications for social regulation, the self-concept, and subjective well-being
Steven Blader
New York University
The effects of social hierarchy can be felt nearly everywhere and by nearly everyone. Indeed, social
hierarchy (i.e., differentiation among social actors along a socially valued dimension) is a fundamental
and ubiquitous force that profoundly shapes the nature of activity in every type of group and social
collective. Nowhere is this truer than in organizational contexts, where hierarchical dynamics are
continually reflected, shaped and reinforced through individuals’ titles, offices, salaries, influence,
praise, reputations, drive, self-assurance, and postures—and everything in between. As a result, where
an individual ‘sits’ within an organization’s social hierarchy is a critical determinant of her or his
interactions with others, and, more broadly, the way that she or he experiences and navigates
organizational life. These observations highlight the importance of understanding the psychology that
underlies social hierarchy.
Reflecting the importance of this topic, an extensive body of research has examined the psychological
dynamics associated with an individual’s understanding of her or his hierarchical position. Most of this
work has focused on investigating the psychology of power, and great strides have been made towards
understanding how an individual’s sense of power shapes that individual’s judgments, behaviors, and
overall orientation towards others. But power is not the only basis on which individuals are
hierarchically differentiated from one another. For instance, although power is certainly a fundamental
basis of social hierarchy, so is social status. Social status refers to the respect, admiration, and prestige
that an individual has in the eyes of others (Magee & Galinsky, 2008). Although theorizing about their
distinction has a rather long history (e.g., Emerson, 1962; Fiske, 2010; Goldhamer & Shils, 1939; Henrich
& Gil-White, 2001; Ridgeway & Walker, 1995), prior empirical research has tended to either conflate
status and power (i.e., conceptualizing and operationalizing them as interchangeable) or has focused
exclusively on power and not considered status.
Importantly, recent empirical work has begun to address this gap (e.g., Blader & Chen, 2012; Dubois,
Rucker, & Galinsky, 2015; Fast, Halevy & Galinsky, 2012; Hays & Bendersky, 2015). The findings of this
recent research substantiate the distinction between status and power, finding that they have different
(and sometimes opposing) influences on a number of important outcomes. For instance, while power
may enhance unfairness towards others, status has the opposite effect (Blader & Chen, 2012). These
findings suggest that the psychology of status may be quite different from that of power and, thus, that
inattention to status may limit our understanding of the psychology of social hierarchy.
In my talk, I will present several lines of research that explore the distinct psychology of status and
highlight several critical functions served by status. I will start by presenting evidence that status
heightens attention towards others (in contrast to power, which often has the opposite effects). This
work suggests that status has the potential to serve an important social regulatory function for groups,
orienting high-status individuals’ attention and behavior towards others and, under certain conditions,
towards collective concerns. I will then present research that examines the intra-psychic functions
served by status. For instance, I will present evidence that status outpaces power as a determinant of
people’s thoughts and feelings about themselves. This suggests that status serves an important function
for the self-concept, bringing greater clarity to people’s sense of themselves. Finally, I will present
evidence that status serves the function of shaping subjective well-being, once again outpacing the
impact of power in this regard. Moreover, this work shows that status and power play distinct roles in
accounting for the link between socioeconomic status (SES) and subjective well-being, but that status is
relatively more impactful than power in accounting for that link.
Overall, my talk will highlight that status serves a number of important, interconnected functions. For
groups, status directs the focus and orientation of the most-valued group members towards others and,
ultimately, towards collective interests and group success. For individuals, status shapes self-definition,
impacting how individuals think and feel about themselves. In addition, status enhances the degree of
meaning and life satisfaction that people experience. Notably, status differs from power because it
serves these functions in ways that are simultaneously fulfilling for individuals and beneficial (rather
than harmful) to interpersonal relations, intragroup dynamics, and the overall viability of groups and