The Echoes of the Mind (128) Status


Social status motivates much of human behavior. ~ American anthropologist Christopher von Rueden & Swiss anthropologist Adrian Jaeggi

The quest for social status begins as a neonate, vying to suckle mother’s teat. Into childhood, siblings add to the score, as do schoolmates. In adulthood, status is even more serious.

The fundamental concept in social science is power, in the same sense in which energy is the fundamental concept in physics. ~ Bertrand Russell

Humans cannot help being status conscious. It happens at every encounter, beginning with judging another by how they look – instantaneously, without reflection. Human sociality is an endless exercise of comparisons on personal scales of status.

Power and dominance hierarchies exist in every human culture and in other primate groups as well. ~ American communication scholar Peter Anderson

In any interpersonal interaction, people overestimate their own agency and underestimate the agency of those they influence. Powerholders especially view themselves as causal, even if their control is illusory. The more powerful managers work harder to influence subordinates, derogate their motivation, devalue their work, keep their distance, and view them as easily manipulated objects. Powerful people appear relentlessly self-oriented. ~ Susan Fiske

Power is always a relational construct. There can be no powerful people without powerless people. ~ Peter Anderson

The animalistic nature of human dominance display is regularly demonstrated. Though physical prowess has scant significance in modern society, height and size continue to command respect.

Upward movements indicate power and triumph. At sports events, cheerleaders and fans alike both make upward motions to signify power. Higher vertical positions are always viewed as more powerful, whether objects or animals.

Standing tall is in itself a good way of achieving dominance. ~ American psychologist Nancy Henley

In a confrontation, standing over another or otherwise looking down conveys dominance. In contrast, a slumped or curled-up position signifies submission, as it creates a smaller appearance.

Males losing arguments, but not willing to cede status, may resort to nonverbal dominance displays: an implicit ad hominem attack that tries to shift focus away from substance. Belittling behaviors are often involved.

In a superior/subordinate interaction at work, the superior may use spatial intrusions, such as moving close, staring, talking loudly, pointing, or touching, to communicate dominance over the subordinate. ~ American communication scholar Martin Remland

Physical size is significant in the business world. Tall men are more likely to be hired, obtain prominent positions, and draw larger salaries than shorter men.

Short men who are intensely ambitious are notorious for the savagery of their “assertiveness” when they have struggled to the top, indicating the need to compensate for their small stature. Where a tall man at the top can afford to relax, the short tyrant must remain tense, forever reestablishing his position. ~ English zoologist and ethologist Desmond Morris

Beards and long hair make the head appear larger, thereby increasing dominance. In Western societies, this hairstyle fashion has periodically appeared among men at various times in history, sometimes with social significance.

The US counterculture movement that began in the late 1960s was of young men with long hair and beards: a younger generation striving, at least symbolically, to seize power from the short-haired conservative corporatists that ran the country. (Short hair among the dominant generation at the time was a holdover from military service during the 2nd World War.)

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There is a halo effect that succors status: a person with one good quality is typically assumed to possess others. Physical attractiveness conveys power, especially for women. People have higher expectations for attractive females, and to a lesser degree males.

Beyond appearance, there are physical positions, interpersonal spacing, movements, gestures, facial expressions, vocalics, and eye contact behaviors that project power or signal submissiveness. Subordinates who increase their nonverbal status displays also augment their perceived satisfaction with their superiors and the organization.

In organizations, assigned power does not necessarily equal actual power. Competent secretaries commonly possess plentiful power despite their subordinate position.

Subordinates often have far more power than they realize, especially when they cooperate and coordinate among themselves. This partly accounts for the fear that corporate management historically has had for unions: the potential creation of an effective, and sometimes subversive, organization within.