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date: 17 July 2018

Summary and Keywords

Group status refers to the extent to which members of a group are respected and admired by others. All known societies are characterized by status stratifications, with the most advantaged groups enjoying a more-than-fair share of the total wealth and prestige. Most ordinary criteria to categorize people into groups possess value connotations that eventually uphold prestige hierarchies. Gender, ethnicity, and age—but also disability, weight, sexual orientation, and of course education, income, and class background—are major criteria of social stratification. Established status characteristics may consist of ascribed (e.g., gender) or achieved (e.g., occupation) qualities. They may further consist of groups with more (e.g., gender) or less (e.g., race, social class) contact and mutual interdependence. Status hierarchies are manifold, and the best metaphor encompassing their diversity is that of a vertical dimension that ranks groups’ status and prestige. Generally, members of high-status groups praise individualistic and autonomous self-conceptions and show self-directedness, whereas the opposite tendencies prevail toward the bottom of the status hierarchy. Socialization practices (e.g., parental education, peers, school, and the workplace) take center stage in explaining how members of status groups acquire these contrasting habits and characteristics. However, recent social psychological research sheds light on more general processes related to how people interpret and react to specific situations. Major contributions of social psychological analyses of group status are found in social identity theory, social role theory, status construction theory, the stereotype content model, and social dominance and system justification theories. Despite substantial differences, these perspectives complement each other to account for the formation, the maintenance, and the change of status hierarchies. Status hierarchies are not only pervasive and inevitable but also crucial in their consequences. Status contributes to a wealth of phenomena, including subjective well-being, mental, and physical health, etc. Important for the present discussion is research investigating how group status affects verbal and nonverbal communication between members of high- and low-status groups.

Keywords: social hierarchy, personal uniqueness, depersonalization, attentional asymmetries, nonverbal behavior, intergroup communication

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