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Overview

Decades of social networks and social capital literature have centered on how connections with people in high places provide critical information and resources that benefit the focal individual’s success. Complementing this focus on tangible benefits, I investigate some unexpected social costs of having advantageous network connections, as well as their implications for societal inequality. My research on status acuity also closely connects to social networks—individuals’ perceptual accuracy of social hierarchies in groups shapes the networks that individuals build—namely, the extent to which they connect with those who truly hold high status. In turn, because these high-status network ties facilitate learning and knowledge transmission and give the focal individuals indirect influence, individuals with more accurate status perceptions perform at a higher level in various settings.

Yu, S., & Shea, C. (Forthcoming). The company she seeks: How the interpersonal prismatic effects of instrumental ties to high-status network contacts can reduce status for women in groups. Organization Science. Women experience chronically inferior returns in organizations. One common recommendation is to form instrumental network ties with high-status others in groups. We integrate research on social status, social perceptions, and gender issues in social networks to suggest that, despite the theoretical and empirical appeal of this approach, instrumental ties to high-status network contacts (versus ties to lower-status network contacts) in groups may incur hidden social status costs for women in intragroup status conferral processes. Instrumental ties to high-status network contacts may be perceived as a sign of agency of the focal person, which violates feminine gender norms. Women with these high-status network contacts in groups may therefore be perceived as less communal, thus lowering their status in the eyes of other group members compared with women with lower-status network contacts. Studies 1 through 4, across cross-sectional, longitudinal, and experimental designs, support our model. Study 5 suggests that signaling a group-oriented goal may mitigate the interpersonal, social perceptual costs of instrumental ties to high-status network contacts for women. This research reveals a potential social-network dilemma for women: instrumental ties to high-status network contacts in groups and organizations are necessary for success and should be encouraged, yet they may also create an extra social perceptual hurdle for women. Organizations need to investigate social and structural solutions that harness the benefits of high-status network contacts for women while minimizing any potential social perceptual costs.

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.   ​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. & Xie, Y. (2017). Preference effects on friendship choice: Evidence from an online field experiment. Social Science Research, 66, 201-210 Observed friendship choices are constrained by social structures and thus problematic indicators for underlying personal preferences. In this paper, we report on a study demonstrating the causal effects of preference in friendship choice based on an online field experiment. Specifically, we tested two important forces that govern friendship choices: preference for shared group identity (operationalized as the desire to befriend others sharing the same place-of-origin identity) and preference for high status (operationalized as the desire to befriend others from high-status institutions). Using an online field experiment in one of the largest social network service websites in China, we investigated the causal preference effects of these two forces free from structural constraints. The results of our study confirm the preference effects on friendship choice in both of the two dimensions we tested.

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