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In this stream of research, I illuminate additional aspects of the psychology of social hierarchy by integrating this research with research on basic psychological needs and the psychology of the self. In particular, I leverage this approach to increase understanding of the two distinct fundamental dimensions of hierarchy—status (i.e., the respect and admiration that an individual has in the eyes of others) and power (i.e., asymmetric control over valued resources).

I argue that a key difference between status and power lies in the basic needs that each fulfills. Specifically, whereas power helps fulfill autonomy and control needs, status fulfills belongingness and respect needs, which are more important to well-being. This distinction has important implications. I also suggest that status is a stronger force than power in shaping one’s self-concept because status is a socially affirmed reflection of how others see one’s attributes and characteristics, such as competence and prosociality, whereas power tends to be determined by situational and structural factors outside of the self.

Fernandes, C., Yu, S., Howell, T., Brooks, A., Kilduff, G. J., & Pettit, N. C. (2021). What is your status portfolio? Higher status variance across groups increases interpersonal helping but decreases intrapersonal well-being. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 165, 56-75. Individuals belong to multiple groups across various domains of life, which in aggregate constitute a portfolio of potentially distinct levels of experienced status. We propose a two-factor model for assessing the effects of an individual’s status portfolio, based on status average (mean status level across groups) and status variance (degree to which status varies across those groups). Five studies using samples in general-life and work-specific contexts reveal the importance of both status average and status variance, the latter of which has been largely unexplored by status researchers to date. Individuals experiencing higher status variance show greater perspective taking, which in turn increases interpersonal helping. However, higher status variance also increases anxiety, decreasing intrapersonal well-being. Our results provide evidence of the additional explanatory power of accounting for status variance alongside status average, and highlight the importance of considering individuals’ aggregate experience of status across the multiple groups to which they belong.

Yu, S. & Blader, S. (2020). Why does social class impact subjective well-being? The role of status and power. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 46, 331–348. The link between social class and subjective well-being (SWB) has been an important topic of inquiry, with broad implications for understanding the psychology of social class and the determinants of SWB. Prior research on this topic has focused primarily on the extent to which social class affects SWB and the factors that moderate that impact. We extend prior work by examining the concerns that account for why social class shapes SWB. In particular, we examine the role of status and power in mediating the impact of one’s social class on one’s SWB. Across five studies, we theorize and find that status mediates the impact of social class on SWB and, moreover, that status is a stronger mediator of this link than is power. Overall, these studies advance scholarly research on the psychology of social hierarchy by clarifying the interplay between social class, status, and power in relation to SWB.

Blader, S. & Yu, S. (2017). Are status and respect different or two sides of the same coin? Academy of Management Annals, 11, 800-824. People care about the way that other members of their work groups and organizations view them. That is, they care about their social worth or social reputation at work. These concerns are the foundation of two distinct lines of scholarly research: one on status and the other on respect. Yet, although the research literatures on people’s sense of their own status and respect both explore the same fundamental concerns, they differ in their conceptual origins, theorized assumptions, motivational underpinnings, judgment processes, and the group dynamics that they ascribe to social worth. Overall, the status and respect literatures provide differing images of the dynamics of individuals’ social worth at work. However, these literatures have been largely disconnected from one another, and there have been relatively few systematic efforts to analyze their differences and similarities. We address this gap by reviewing and comparing the status and respect literatures. Our analysis leads us to conclude that although status research and respect research are highly distinct, the two research areas ultimately investigate the same phenomenon and should be integrated more extensively. Moreover, our analysis highlights several limitations and gaps in prior research on status and respect. We suggest opportunities for integrating status and respect research and for developing a more complete understanding of the dynamics of social worth at work.

Kuwabara, K. & Yu, S. (2017). Costly punishment increases prosocial punishment by designated punishers power and legitimacy in public goods games. Social Psychology Quarterly, 80, 174-193. A classic problem in the literature on authority is that those with the power to enforce cooperation and proper norms of conduct can also abuse or misuse their power. The present research tested the argument that concerns about legitimacy can help regulate the use of power to punish by invoking a sense of what is morally right or socially proper for power-holders. We tested this idea in a laboratory experiment using public goods games in which one person in each group was selected to be a “designated punisher” who could give out material punishment that was either costly or costless to the punisher. Results show that costly punishment is perceived as more legitimate (proper) than costless punishment and that designated punishers engaged in more proper (“prosocial”) punishment and less abusive (“antisocial”) punishment when punishment was costly. These results highlight the importance of legitimacy in both motivating and regulating the enforcement of cooperation.

Kuwabara, K., Yu, S., Lee, A., & Galinsky, A. (2016). Status decreases dominance in the West but increases dominance in the East. Psychological Science, 27, 127-137. In the experiments reported here, we integrated work on hierarchy, culture, and the enforcement of group cooperation by examining patterns of punishment. Studies in Western contexts have shown that having high status can temper acts of dominance, suggesting that high status may decrease punishment by the powerful. We predicted that high status would have the opposite effect in Asian cultures because vertical collectivism permits the use of dominance to reinforce the existing hierarchical order. Across two experiments, having high status decreased punishment by American participants but increased punishment by Chinese and Indian participants. Moreover, within each culture, the effect of status on punishment was mediated by feelings of being respected. A final experiment found differential effects of status on punishment imposed by Asian Americans depending on whether their Asian or American identity was activated. Analyzing enforcement through the lens of hierarchy and culture adds insight into the vexing puzzle of when and why people engage in punishment.

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