Everyone desires high social status, Prof. Cameron Anderson finds
The question of whether it’s human nature to want reputation or prestige in one’s social circle, profession, or society has been debated by scholars for decades. Berkeley Haas Professor Cameron Anderson sought—and found—a definitive answer.
In “Is the Desire for Status a Fundamental Human Motive? A Review of the Empirical Literature,” published in the May issue of Psychological Bulletin, Anderson and Berkeley Haas PhD candidates John Angus D. Hildreth and Laura Howland reviewed hundreds of studies and found that status is something all people crave and covet—even if they don’t realize it.
Anderson says status influences how people think and behave. “Establishing that desire for status is a fundamental human motive matters because status differences can be demoralizing,” says Anderson. “Whenever you don’t feel valued by others it hurts, and the lack of status hurts more people than we think.”
Anderson and his team looked at studies dating back more than 70 years. They differentiated between status and “related constructs such as power and financial success” by defining status as comprising three components: respect or admiration, voluntary deference by others, and social value. Social value (also known as prestige) is bestowed upon individuals whose advice is sought by others. Prestige can also be measured by how much others defer to an individual.
Four criteria determined whether the desire for status is fundamental.
1. Well-being and health: The attainment of status must contribute to long-term psychological and physical health.
2. Activities: The desire for status must drive goal-oriented behavior aimed at attaining and maintaining status, a preference for select social environments, and a strong reaction when others perceive them as lacking status.
3. Status for status’ sake: The motivation for status is not dependent on other motives.
4. Universality: The desire for status must operate and extend over many types of cultures, genders, ages, and personalities.
The strongest test of the hypothesis is whether the possession of low status harms health. The studies reviewed showed that people who had low status in their communities, peer groups, or workplaces suffered more from depression, chronic anxiety, and even cardiovascular disease. Individuals who fell lower on the status hierarchy, or what the authors call the “community ladder,” felt less respected and valued and more ignored by others.
Anderson hopes the study’s results influence future research including but not limited to management literature. “The desire for status can drive all kinds of actions, ranging from aggression and violence, to altruism and generosity, to conservation behavior that benefits the environment. The more we understand this basic driver, the more we can harness it to guide people’s decisions and actions to more productive paths.” —Pamela Tom