2011 October 06 Thursday
Status Hierarchies And Trust

The higher your status the more you can count on good treatment from those below you.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – When you start a new job, your boss may be more likely to trust you than you are to trust him or her, a new study suggests.

The reason has to with the role that social status plays in relationships.

In three separate experiments, researchers found that high-status people tended to trust people more in initial encounters than did people with lower status. One experiment showed why: high-status people rated others as more benevolent, which led them to trust more.

These findings indicate that having high status fundamentally alters our expectations of others’ motives toward us, said Robert Lount, lead author of the study and assistant professor of management and human resources at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.

People with more power are more able to hand our rewards and punishments. So they can expect better treatment.

This is another reason to raise your game and get ahead and move up. Don't trust your boss? Move up and then people will become fawning and solicitous.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2011 October 06 07:33 PM  Human Nature Status

chris said at October 7, 2011 4:51 AM:

Would this explain the stereotypical naivete of liberals?

Shawn said at October 7, 2011 7:22 AM:

This is common sense. Why was a study ever needed, lol. This is taxpayer money at work; this professor evidently works for a state school.

Lono said at October 7, 2011 9:03 AM:

I do agree this falls into the "well duh!" category - but this also effects me personally in an unfortunate way.

This inherent truism of status hierarchies causes many sociopaths to be natural status climbers - as their inability to easily understand intention makes them overly paranoid. The higher their status the less concerned they have to be about the intentions of those below them and the more trusting they can be in their relationships with their subordinates.

This has put me in the unenviable position of having to report or be held accountable to such creatures - hideous, useless, phenotypes that I would like to launch directly into the sun as much as look at. And , just this week, my wife's division was reorganized to directly report to a well known company sociopath. Unfortunately I am not left unscathed as my wife's division is my main internal client for data - a relationship most agreeable when not held under the greasy thumb of a most amoral and Machiavellian deviant.

Sadly corporate America is plagued by such corruption due to the very nature of these social hierarchies - a pure and anachronistic throwback to our tribal days.

I empathize strongly with many of you who likely also find themselves professionally captive to such lunatics - please know there is a better way - and many noble groups are working on the social change needed to filter out such unwanted phenotypes from our professional hierarchies and eventually the gene pool itself.

bbartlog said at October 8, 2011 7:12 AM:

Disagree with both Randall and all three commenters.
1) The study was specifically designed to differentiate between power and status. In no case did the subjects have any actual power, and in some of the setups the partners where imaginary individuals from an entirely different university. Now, you can make an argument that within the usual human evolutionary environment, status and power were never separate, and therefore the reflex in question is the same; but this is not obvious nor am I entirely convinced. There is such a thing as being popular or high status without having real attendant power, e.g. being homecoming queen or something like that. You're also claiming that the subjects were totally in the dark as to their own motives, i.e. when they ascribe benevolence to their partners you're saying (with no evidence) that really they just unconsciously assume better behavior because they feel like they now have powers of punishment and deterrence.
@chris: surely there is some political blog where you can shop around your prejudices? Are you claiming that high status liberals are naive and trusting? I don't find it so.
@Shawn: the result doesn't seem at all obvious to me. In particular, when it comes to the experiment where subjects have to decide how much money to send to an unknown partner, I think it's somewhat counterintuitive. Something like the Stanford prison experiment might lead someone (me) to think that being higher status just leads to generally dickish behavior, which isn't really what we see here.
@Lono: there's nothing in the article about sociopaths. Further, your claim that sociopaths are overly paranoid and also tend to high status sort of flies in the face of the behavior shown by higher status subjects in the study (more trusting).

Other possible explanations for this phenomenon:
1) If you're high status, you can afford betrayal more than someone of low status (in principle you have other friends or resources to fall back on)
2) Maintaining high status in the human evolutionary environment required being (or at least appearing) generous and magnanimous, and this study tickles the reflexes associated with holding such a position
3) Primitive brain chemistry confusion, i.e. perceiving a sudden increase in status triggers some general feel-good mental state with associated behaviors, via oxytocin or some other rather blunt biochemical implement

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