The Origins of Deference: When do People Prefer Lower Status?

Cameron Anderson
Gavin Kilduff
Courtney Brown
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Although the desire for high status is considered universal, prior research suggests individuals often opt for lower status positions. Why would anyone favor a position of apparent disadvantage? In 5 studies, we found that the broad construct of status striving can be broken up into two conceptions: one based on rank, the other on respect. While individuals might universally desire high levels of respect, we find that they vary widely in the extent to which they strive for high-status rank, with many individuals opting for middle- or low-status rank. The status rank that individuals preferred depended on their self-perceived value to the group: when they believed they provided less value, they preferred lower status rank. Mediation and moderation analyses suggest that beliefs about others’ expectations were the primary driver of these effects. Individuals who believed they provided little value to their group inferred that others expected them to occupy a lower status position. Individuals in turn conformed to these perceived expectations, accepting lower status rank in such settings.