All social group members pursue the universal goals of status attainment and maintenance in their face-to-face interactions. The need to get ahead and feel superior over others is not only important for the human ego, but it also has a remarkable impact on individuals’ social cognition, personal well-being, and emotional experiences in interpersonal settings. But what determines low and high status in social groups? What are the roots of face-to-face status; is it necessarily linked to formal and institutionalized roles?
Face-to-face status is commonly defined as the amount of prominence, respect and influence one enjoys in the eyes of others. Since this definition describes status as an evaluation of certain attributes in the eyes of others, it is well expected that personality characteristics and a group’s collective judgments about what is status-bearing play an essential role in determining who receives the most attention, respect and influential power.
Research shows that extraverts, who are generally more talkative, enthusiastic, and assertive in social situations, attain higher status than introverts, who are more reserved and less outspoken in social interactions. Moreover, conscious individuals, who show self-discipline, dutifulness and a sincere interest in success, are expected to attain higher status. Openness to change has the potential to determine status in groups that value creativity, originality, and independence of judgment (e.g., in artistic occupations and innovative product development teams). Status is negatively related to people’s tendency to experience negative emotions; i.e., a personality that is characterized by instability, anxiety and aggression is less likely to be granted high status in face-to-face groups. Research findings show that especially men who violate gender expectations by feeling and acting afraid, sad, guilty, or vulnerable are accorded lower status whereas the same is not necessarily valid for women.
Research also shows that individuals strive for status not by bullying and intimidating others, but by behaving in ways that signalize high levels of competence, generosity, and commitment to their group. Those who communicate high task competence are found to achieve higher status than those who fail to do so. Moreover, dominant individuals are perceived as possessing superior abilities related to their group’s task and hence, receive more respect and attention from the others. Individuals who make sacrifices for their groups and act in a selfless way are also accorded high status. For example, those individuals who provide more work-related assistance to their fellow groups members than they themselves receive are highly appreciated for their communal orientation and therefore, are afforded higher status.
All these research findings suggest that individuals can certainly employ successful strategies to improve their standing within the status hierarchy. Although formal leadership roles may increase the likelihood of attaining status, an individual without legitimate power can also gain status by enhancing his/her apparent competence and commitment to the group. A combination of appropriate personal characteristics with the right strategy seems to raise an individual’s value in the eyes of fellow group members and endow him/her with higher status.
This essay summarizes the findings of the articles “Who Attains Social Status? Effects of Personality and Physical Attractiveness in Social Groups” by Anderson and colleagues (2001) and “The Pursuit of Status in Social Groups” by Anderson and Kilduff (2009).