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Research on Social Hierarchy

Selected current projects

- Status acuity, workplace inequality perceptions, and allyship

- Status acuity and leadership effectiveness

- Status acuity and intergroup negotiation outcomes

- Hierarchy, emotional regulation, and workplace culture

- Socioeconomic status and motivation judgments


- Contextual complexity and status conferral processes

Prior papers

Effects of social hierarchy on individuals

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. Abstract: 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., & Kilduff, G. J. (2020). Knowing where others stand: Accuracy and performance effects of individuals’ perceived status hierarchies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 119, 159–184. Abstract: ​Status hierarchies are perhaps the single most important form of social structure within groups, ubiquitous and affecting groups’ information flow, decision-making, and performance as well as the behavior and outcomes of individual members. The extent to which individuals are able to accurately perceive and navigate their groups’ status hierarchies may thus be a critical determinant of their success. Research to date, however, has not yet fully examined the role of individuals’ perceptions of status hierarchies. We introduce the concept of perceived status hierarchies, or individuals’ mental representations of their groups’ status hierarchies. Across four field studies, involving students in university cohorts and working adults, we find substantial variance in individuals’ perceived status hierarchies, and that individuals with more accurate status perceptions exhibit higher performance. Analyses of individuals’ networking behavior reveals that individuals with more accurate perceived status hierarchies seek out contact with higher status others on average, which mediates the positive association between accuracy and performance. This work makes important contributions by extending existing theories of status, connecting the literatures on status and social networks, and providing a thorough investigation into the consequences of accurate perceptions of social structure for individuals.

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. Abstract: 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.

Yu, S., Greer, L.L., Halevy, N., & van Bunderen, L. (2019). On ladders and pyramids: Hierarchy’s shape determines relationships and performance in groups. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 45, 1717-1733. Abstract: Hierarchies take different forms, which individuals mentally represent using different geometric shapes. We propose and empirically demonstrate that individuals’ mental representations of the shape hierarchy takes affect its consequences. Five studies compared two common mental representations of hierarchy shapes—ladders and pyramids—to explore whether, why, and how individuals’ perceptions of hierarchy’s shape undermine constructive relationships within groups and group performance. Study 1 demonstrated that individuals commonly mentally represent hierarchies as ladders and pyramids. In Studies 2 and 3, employees who perceived their workplace hierarchies to be shaped like ladders (as compared with pyramids) experienced worse intragroup relationships. Finally, Studies 4 and 5 experimentally manipulated groups’ hierarchical shape in the lab and found that ladder-shaped hierarchies undermined social relationships and group performance relative to pyramid-shaped hierarchies. Taken together, these findings enhance our understanding of hierarchies’ multifaceted consequences and help shed light on the (dis)utility of hierarchy for group functioning.

Blader, S. & Yu, S. (2017). Are status and respect different or two sides of the same coin? Academy of Management Annals, 11, 800-824. Abstract: 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. Abstract: 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. Abstract: 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.

Effects of social hierarchy on groups

Yu, S., Kilduff, G. J., & West, T. (2023). Status acuity: How the ability to accurately perceive status hierarchies reduces status conflict and benefits group performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 108, 114–137. Abstract: Humans are a fundamentally social species, having evolved in groups with status hierarchies. However, research on the dimensions of individual ability has largely overlooked the domain of status. Building upon research on the individual-level benefits of accurate status perceptions, we propose that there exists an individual dispositional ability to perceive groups’ informal status hierarchies, which we call status acuity, and which has important implications for group dynamics. We find support for the existence and importance of status acuity across several studies. In Studies 1a and 1b, we develop and validate a measure of status acuity, find that it is distinct from previously studied individual abilities including emotional intelligence, cognitive intelligence, and accurate learning of social networks, and find that it predicts important individual outcomes at work. In Studies 2 and 3, we examine the effects of status acuity in face-to-face groups. As predicted, groups whose members have higher status acuity experience less status conflict, which benefits performance on creative idea-generation as well as problem-solving tasks. This work extends existing research on status and group dynamics, and contributes to our understanding of the constellation of human abilities, offering a new answer to the question: “How well does this person work in groups?”

Yu, S., & Greer, L. L. (2022). The role of resources in the success or failure of diverse teams: Resource scarcity activates negative performance-detracting resource dynamics in social category diverse teams. Organization Science, 34, 24-50. Abstract: Increasing the social category diversity of work teams is top of mind for many organizations. However, such efforts may not always be sufficiently resourced, given the numerous resource demands facing organizations. In this paper, we offer a novel take on the relationship between social category diversity and team performance, seeking to understand the role resources may play in both altering and explaining the performance dynamics of diverse teams. Specifically, our resource framework explains how the effects of social category diversity on team performance can be explained by intrateam resource cognitions and behaviors and are dependent on team resource availability. We propose that in the face of scarcity in a focal resource (i.e., budget), diverse (but not homogenous) teams generalize this scarcity perception to fear that all resources (i.e., staff, time, etc.) are scarce, prompting performance-detracting power struggles over resources within the team. We find support for our model in three multimethod team-level studies, including two laboratory studies of interacting teams and a field study of work teams in research and development firms. Our resource framework provides a new lens to study the success or failure of diverse teams by illuminating a previously overlooked danger in diverse teams (negative resource cognitions (scarcity spillover bias) and behaviors (intrateam power struggles)), which offers enhanced explanatory power over prior explanations. This resource framework for the study of team diversity also yields insight into how to remove the roadblocks that may occur in diverse teams, highlighting the necessity of resource sufficiency for the success of diverse teams.

Greer, L.L, van Bunderen, L., & Yu, S. (2017). The dysfunctions of power in teams: A review and emergent conflict perspective. Research in Organizational Behavior, 37, 103-124. Abstract: We review the new and growing body of work on power in teams and use this review to develop an emergent theory of how power impacts team outcomes. Our paper offers three primary contributions. First, our review highlights potentially incorrect assumptions that have arisen around the topic of power in teams and documents the areas and findings that appear most robust in explaining the effects of power on teams. Second, we contrast the findings of this review with what is known about the effects of power on individuals and highlight the directionally oppositional effects of power that emerge across different levels of analysis. Third, we integrate findings across levels of analysis into an emergent theory which explains why and when the benefits of power for individuals may paradoxically explain the potentially negative effects of power on team outcomes. We elaborate on how individual social comparisons within teams where at least one member has power increase intra-team power sensitivity, which we define as a state in which team members are excessively perceptive of, affected by, and responsive to resources. We theorize that when power-sensitized teams experience resource threats (either stemming from external threats or personal threats within the team), these threats will ignite internal power sensitivities and set into play performance-detracting intra-team power struggles. This conflict account of power in teams integrates and organizes past findings in this area to explain why and when power negatively affects team-level outcomes, and opens the door for future research to better understand why and when power may benefit team outcomes when power’s dark side for teams is removed.

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