Two Kinds Of Status

The conceited, arrogant feeling of pride has been called the deadliest of the seven deadly sins. Yet pride can also be noble. We all know the contented sense of achievement and self-worth that comes with having done well at something, whether it be achieving a promotion, building something, winning a race or figuring out a cryptic crossword clue. That’s why Jessica Tracy, … one of the few psychologists focused on pride, makes the distinction between what she calls “hubristic pride” and “authentic pride”.

Pride may manifest itself in two different ways, but we cannot tell these apart by their outward appearance, she says.  Both types cause people to tilt their heads back, extend their arms from their body and try to look as large as possible. …

When people see pride expressed they associate it with high status. So pride motivates us to do well so that we gain respect. …  Status can take two forms. … The first is based on dominance and commonly seen in non-human primates, whereby bigger and stronger individuals are revered because they could overwhelm or kill others. The human equivalents include the playground bully and officious boss.  The second kind of status is prestige. In this case, respect and power is gained through knowledge or skill.

More here. I was skeptical at first, but now am convinced: humans see two kinds of status, and approve of prestige-status much more than domination-status.  I’ll have much more to say about this in the coming days, but it is far from clear to me that prestige-status is as much better than domination-status as people seem to think.  Efforts to achieve prestige-status also have serious negative side-effects.

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  • How would social domination or charisma rank? As a form of power, it is domination-status, but by its nature it’s a way to get people to approve of you, thus escaping the common disdain for arrogance.

  • Steven

    Ha.. is Robin Hanson wondering why some people perceive him to be guilty of hubris?

  • michael vassar

    Looking at societies that run primarily on prestige status and those that run primarily on domination, I’d say it’s pretty clear.

  • bcg

    I don’t see these being two types of status. Domination-status is rooted in fear; prestige-status is rooted in respect. But respect is just the word we give for fear when the arena in which we fear someone is remote (I.e., we respect an actor’s ability because we would fear auditioning against them; we respect a general’s strategic prowess because we would fear defending against his military campaign). Prestige-status is just latent domination-status.

    • michael vassar

      Terrible example. Most of us clearly don’t fear auditioning against actors, even hypothetically. More plausibly, we simply like looking at high status individuals, just like monkey do.

      • bcg

        Noted; you don’t like one of the examples I gave. Replace it with literally any other activity in which we confer status on people because they’re good at it.

    • Tyrrell McAllister

      Prestige-status is just latent domination-status.

      It seems at least as plausible that prestige-status is a manifestation of an urge to affiliate with high-status individuals. You accord prestige to good actors because you unconsciously hope that your display will lead them to draw you into their circle, so that some of their high-status will reflect on you.

    • Psychohistorian

      This doesn’t really work. I respect Olympic figure skaters. I do not fear competing with them. I’d lose, obviously, but it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest. I wouldn’t feel bad being beaten in a competition I have no skill or training in by a trained professional. Similarly, no one sees, say, Colin Powell, and says, “Hmmm, it’d be really hard to command an army against that dude.” They think, “Damn, he’s got some ridiculous military credentials. I find that admirable (probably because I was raised to respect people with military credentials).”

      In other words, you’re positing extra steps that don’t really seem to correspond well with reality. You could just as easily say that I fear them because, if we were both in a burning building, most people would save them and not me. It’s true, it’s perhaps worrisome, and it never even comes close to crossing my mind when I experience respect of that person.

      • bcg

        Domination-status is what people have when you’re in competition with them; prestige-status is what people have when you’re watching the competition. The example of being chosen in a burning building is just another kind of competition.

        We approve prestige-status more than domination-status because it’s a demonstration of effectiveness and worth – by letting other people judge your status, you’re giving them status as judges, which they like.

        Robin’s posts about these two kinds of status will explain what he thinks about these. We’ll see if, as he discusses them, this way of looking at domination-status and prestige-status holds or not.

  • I see there are also some other status classification schemes:

    Socioeconomic_status / Social_status

    Achieved_status / Ascribed_status

  • tom

    This may be a good ‘near’ vs ‘far’ subject.

    Most of the commenters’ examples deal with public figures. But with very few exceptions (Iranian, NK leaders?) we don’t have any world-famous people that get to lord domination pride over most of us (except of course Olympic figurer skaters). So when we talk about famous people, we are much more likely talking about prestige pride. They are ‘far’ in Hanson’s vision.

    In people’s smaller (near?) lives, there is much more domination pride. Every company, every sport, every school, every bar, has ‘near’ domination pride. And I think that at a near level, commenter bcg is right: domination pride and prestige pride are two parts of the same thing. Is a man or woman’s feeling about a much better-looking, younger, more successful person in the bar ever NOT a response to a kind of domination/submission?

    Only when we have no ‘near’ relationship to a person can there really be prestige pride separate from domination pride. (And even that separation exists only when you consider it from the observer’s point of view. The proud person still must almost always have both types of pride because he’ll always have ‘near’ reactions with some group of people.)

    Publicity and gossip about high-status people shows something about how we respond when we feel another person’s ‘far’ or prestige pride. People Magazine = urge to know/affiliate with high status. National Enquirer = urge to bring high status low.

    And it’s not fear that makes us want famous people brought low; it’s envy. Tiger Woods! Fear applies near only, but envy applies near and far.

    I’m ignoring the huge group of people today who have fame/notoriety without having anything particular to be proud of. I think that doesn’t really matter–on the ‘far’ scale, fame = prestige.

    • mjgeddes

      As always, I think everything comes in 3s, not 2s. I claim there are actually 3 thought modes (very near, near, far), 3 types of reasoning, (deductive logic, bayesian induction, categorization), 3 types of intelligence (domain specific, rational, emotional), 3 types of causality (structure, action-potential, signal), 3 types of politics (conservatism, libertarianism, socialism) and so forth.

      ‘3’ looms big in the world of emotions, and the significance of 3^2 (27) is even bigger 😉

      It’s no surprise I think there are 3 types of status, (1) Domination-status, (2) Prestige-status and (3) Charm-Status. Charm-Status: social skills, life of the party, good entertainer, sort of thing. Go back to my 3-fold classification of personality types: Warriors (Domination status). Tycoons (Prestige Status) and Artists (Charm Status).

      I actually put Domination status as ‘very near’ , Prestigate status as ‘near’ and Charm status as ‘far’.

  • The psychologist is just re-discovering Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments.

    There is no distinction qualitatively between hubristic and authentic pride, only one of degree; the former is more intense than the latter. Because others cannot be expected to naturally feel as proud as the accomplished person himself (they didn’t accomplish the accomplishment), the authentically proud person *dials down* his pride in a display of Stoic self-command. This less intense sentiment of another person is easier to share, allowing others to enter into his pride by sympathy and making everyone happy.

    The hubristically proud person maintains or ramps up his pride, which is too intense for others to share. This turns them off and makes them disdainful of him.

    The proximate motivation — conscious or unconscious — to confer prestige is not based on affiliation at all, since most such reflexes fail to secure us into that person’s circle. That’s the incorrect and cynical view, based on utility to the applauders which only applies to a small handful of sycophants. (It could be an ultimate, evolutionary adaptive explanation, though.) Rather, as Smith pointed out, the motivation is simply to feel elevated and joyful by coordinating your sentiments with someone who is feeling deservedly special.

    BTW, “pride” is the wrong word here. It refers to a sin, like thinking you’re so great that you can’t be corrected or improved — “He’s to proud to admit he screwed up the directions,” or “Death Be Not Proud,” etc. The psychologist refers to a sense of satisfaction after accomplishing something that is praiseworthy. “Self-approval” might work better.

  • Buck Farmer

    Could it be that we’ve evolved to classify achievements that grow the pie (or maybe positive externalities?) as prestigious and achievements that resize the slices as dominance?

    I agree with the commenters above that a near/far distinction seems intuitively right, an a better fit than physical size vs. skills/knowledge.

    A professor’s preeminence in his field might be perceived as prestige status by undergrads or non-academics and as dominance status by a colleague in that field?

    Similarly, I might give prestige status to a successful wrestler for my nation in the Olympics, but give dominance status to the bouncer at a club.

  • Aron

    Sounds like prisoner’s dillemma to me. Prestige is tit-for-tat. Dominance is defection. Conformist would be the opposite of dominance, and equally viable. Different mixes of these strategies pay off in different environments.

  • Violence is a negative sum game. One thing I like about Hanson’s “dealism” is the recognition of that fact and attempt to find a better arrangement. Prestige competition seems more of a positive or (at worst) zero-sum game.

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