Are Humans Statusticians: Our Emotional Response To High Status Individuals
Excerpted Introduction (via The Beautiful Brain)
Humans, like many other primates, live in a social hierarchy. This hierarchy exists in all areas of our lives: our families, schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces (academia struck me as a noteworthy example, thus, the above vignette). We continually jockey between positions of dominance and subordination, and our emotions, thoughts, and behaviors seem to be at the mercy of this balancing act. So it’s no surprise that new research reveals a vast neurological divergence when we’re confronted with, respectively, “superior” and “inferior” individuals.
Fantastic Findings (via The Beautiful Brain)
These results paint a familiar picture: When faced with a superior, our emotions are heightened, our attention sharpened, and our social position closely analyzed. This effect is amplified in situations where your own status is subject to change. Think of the last time you met a superstar in your field or an artist you greatly admire. Did their status not stir your emotions? Did you find yourself paying close attention to your words while carefully tracking their reactions? Did you, on leaving the encounter, dwell on the possible social advantages or disadvantages gleaned from the confrontation? If your answer to these questions is unequivocally no, I would guess you are either being untruthful or have a rare, and somewhat enviable, phenotype rendering you apathetic to status.
Even though we often want to avoid these feelings and conceal any interest in social status (“I don’t care what people think about me!”), I believe we’re stuck with our status fascination. This data seems to say we’re built for it.