Status – that is, a socially defined position or rank to groups or group members by others – permeates every society. Despite many attempts, we have made little progress toward a classless society. Even the smallest group will develop roles, rights and rituals to differentiate its members. Status is an important factor in understanding human behavior because it is significant motivator and has major behavioral consequences when individuals perceive a disparity between what they believe their status to be and what others perceive it to be.
What determines Status? According to status characteristics theory, differences in status characteristics create status hierarchies within groups. Moreover, status tends to be derived from one of three sources: the power a person wields over others; a person’s ability to contribute to a group’s goals and an individual’s personal characteristics.
People who control the outcomes of a group through their power tend to be perceived as high status. This is largely due to their ability to control the group’s resources. So a group’s formal leader or manager is likely to be perceived as high status when he or she can allocate resources like preferred assignments, desirable schedules, and pay increases. People whose contribution is critical to the group’s success also tend to have status. The outstanding performers on sports teams, for example, typically have greater status on the team than do average players. Finally, someone who has personal characteristics that are positively valued by the group such as good looks, intelligence, money, or a friendly personality will typically have higher status than someone who has fewer valued attributes. This tends to explain why attractive people are often the most popular in high school. Note, of course, that a characteristic valued by one group may mean nothing in another. So high intelligence may give you status at your monthly Mensa meetings, but it may provide no benefit at all to you at your Tuesday bowling league.
Status and Norms: Status has been shown to have some interesting effects on the power of norms and pressures to conform. For instance, high status members of groups often are given more freedom to deviate from norms than are other group members. High status people also are better able to resist conformity pressures than their lower status peers. An individual who is highly valued by a group but who doesn’t much need or care about the social rewards the group provides is particularly able to pay minimal attention to conformity norms.
The previous findings explain why many star athletes, celebrities, top performing sales people, and outstanding academics seem oblivious to appearance or social norms that constraint their peers. As high status individuals, they’re given a wider rage of discretion. But this is true only as long as the high status person’s activities aren’t severely detrimental to group goal achievement.
Status and group Interaction: Interaction among members of groups is influenced by status. We find, for instance, that high status people tend to be more assertive. They speak out more often, criticize more, state more commands, and interrupt others more often. But status differences actually inhibit diversity of ideas and creativity in groups because lower status members tend to be less active participants in group discussion. In situations in which lower status members possess expertise and insights that could aid the group, their expertise and insights are likely to be fully utilized, thus reducing the group’s overall performance.
Status Inequity: It is important for group members to believe that the status hierarchy is equitable. When inequity is perceived it creates disequilibrium which results in various types of corrective behavior.
People expect rewards to be proportionate to cost incurred. If E and B are the two finalists for the head nurse position in a hospital, and it is clear that E has more seniority and better preparation for assuming the promotion, B will view the selection of E to be equitable. However, if B is chosen because she is daughter-in-law of the hospital director, E will believe an injustice has been committed.
The trappings that go with formal positions are also important elements in maintaining equity.