Status model

[Epistemic sta­tus: My best guess.]

Fol­low­ing a con­ver­sa­tion on a pre­vi­ous post, I de­cided to do some re­search into the com­mu­nity’s thoughts on sta­tus. The com­mu­nity talks about sta­tus a lot and I spent a few happy hours sift­ing through ev­ery­thing I could find.

I came up with a sta­tus model based on the posts and com­ments which I read:

Essen­tially, sta­tus-re­lated men­tal adap­ta­tions are ex­e­cuted which lead to cer­tain sta­tus be­havi­ours. Th­ese be­havi­ours de­ter­mine our so­cial stand­ing which, at least in the an­ces­tral en­vi­ron­ment, tended to af­fect out fit­ness.

I don’t think there’s any­thing ground break­ing here (a similar model would prob­a­bly ap­ply to any adap­ta­tion ex­e­cu­tion vs fit­ness max­imis­ing effect) but I haven’t seen it sketched out speci­fi­cally for sta­tus be­fore.

The word “sta­tus” gets used to re­fer to items on all 4 lev­els and this can lead to con­fu­sion where two peo­ple are refer­ring to differ­ent lev­els.

For in­stance, what is sta­tus and how can I mea­sure it? One way is to look di­rectly at row 2 (sta­tus rat­ing): who re­spects whom and how much? Maybe I could give ev­ery­one a ques­tion­naire to rate each other’s sta­tus. Or I can look at row 3 (sta­tus be­havi­ours): who acts like they have high sta­tus? Or row 1 (sta­tus benefits): who has the most so­cial con­trol etc.? Who­ever gets the most benefits prob­a­bly has the most sta­tus.

Each op­tion has its ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages e.g. ac­cu­racy, ease of as­sess­ment but it is im­por­tant to know which level is be­ing referred to.

Prob­a­bly the most com­monly de­bated is­sue on this topic is whether sta­tus is zero-sum.

If we con­sider sta­tus in row 2 then sta­tus is prob­a­bly go­ing to be rel­a­tively zero-sum, al­though you can maybe get around this a bit by split­ting into smaller sub-cul­tures.

If we con­sider row 1, in­so­far as the sta­tus rat­ing de­ter­mines the benefits, they are close to zero-sum. How­ever, the benefits are also con­trol­led by things other than sta­tus (how good are we at get­ting food, how well co­or­di­nated are we as a group?) and so are able to be pos­i­tive sum.

Row 4 is where it gets re­ally in­ter­est­ing—our adap­ta­tions which im­ple­ment sta­tus be­havi­our are not zero-sum. We can feel more self-es­teem with­out in­creas­ing our sta­tus rat­ing (see That Other Kind Of Sta­tus). Th­ese men­tal adap­ta­tions are the things which we care about on a gut level and give plenty of scope for pos­i­tive sum be­havi­ours (e.g. give praise).

I don’t pre­tend that this an­swers the zero-sum ques­tion com­pletely but I think it does put it in a helpful frame.

The model is in­com­plete in a num­ber of ways.

The “sta­tus rat­ing” row is a mas­sive sim­plifi­ca­tion. In re­al­ity there are all of the differ­ent ways which hu­mans judge sta­tus, how sta­tus changes de­pend­ing on group and cir­cum­stances and the effects of so­cial al­lies. I only listed two kinds of sta­tus to sim­plify vi­su­ally.

The sta­tus benefits and sta­tus adap­ta­tions listed are also only a sub­set of the ac­tual benefits and adap­ta­tions.

The re­la­tion­ships be­tween the rows are leaky. The sta­tus adap­ta­tions lead to be­havi­ours which aren’t nec­es­sar­ily re­lated to sta­tus and the sta­tus benefits can be af­fected by things other than sta­tus rat­ing.

De­spite the model’s limi­ta­tions, I hope it is a use­ful sim­plifi­ca­tion.


Ben Pace sug­gested I add a list of the posts which I looked at and how I think they re­late to my model. I’ve done this be­low – apolo­gies to any of the con­trib­u­tors if I’m mis­in­ter­pret­ing their work.

That Other Kind Of Sta­tus: Link be­tween sta­tus rat­ing and sta­tus adap­ta­tions.

The Many Faces of Sta­tus: Morendil’s own in­ves­ti­ga­tion into sta­tus. Covers all ar­eas of the model.

The Red Paper­clip The­ory of Sta­tus: Trad­ing within and be­tween sta­tus rat­ings and sta­tus benefits plus some dis­cus­sion of re­lated be­havi­ours.

Sta­tus: Is it what we think it is?: Dis­cus­sion of pres­tige and dom­i­nance sta­tus. Die­go­caleiro gives the aca­demic names of the sta­tus types and links to google scholar for more info.

Ac­tors see sta­tus: Quotes from Im­pro, fo­cus­ing on sta­tus be­havi­our and sta­tus rat­ing.

The Eco­nomics of So­cial Sta­tus: In­spired by Red Paper­clip and goes into sig­nifi­cant de­tail.

Sta­tus: Map and Ter­ri­tory: Dis­cus­sion of how some sta­tus adap­ta­tions at­tempt to en­force the in­tegrity of the links be­tween other adap­ta­tions and sta­tus be­havi­ours.

Mak­ing your­self small: How sta­tus rat­ing plays into sta­tus benefits, speci­fi­cally free­dom of ac­tion. Low sta­tus rat­ing can make it hard to make your­self big. High sta­tus rat­ing al­lows you to make your­self big or small.

What if sta­tus is a ter­mi­nal value for most peo­ple: This seems to me to be a differ­ent model, where sta­tus rat­ing is a di­rect adap­ta­tion. Some com­menters (e.g. some­onewron­gonthenet) sug­gest that sep­a­rat­ing sta­tus from adap­ta­tion works bet­ter.

The con­ver­sa­tion which started my re­search – To pre­dict sta­tus be­havi­ours, should we go back­wards from sta­tus rat­ing (zero-sum) or is there a bet­ter way (e.g. work­ing for­wards from sta­tus adap­ta­tions)?