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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Two ways to the top : evidence that dominance and prestige are distinct yet viable avenues to social rank Cheng, Joey T.


The pursuit of social rank is a recurrent and pervasive challenge faced by individuals in all human societies. Yet, the precise means through which individuals compete for social standing remains unclear. Chapters 2 and 3 addressed this question and examined the impact of two fundamental strategies—Dominance (the use of force and intimidation to induce fear) and Prestige (the sharing of expertise or know-how to gain respect)—on the attainment of social rank, among a group of individuals who interacted over a collaborative group task. Consistent with this theoretical framework, the adoption of either a Dominance or Prestige strategy promoted perceptions of greater influence as rated by both group members and outside observers, higher levels of actual impact over the group’s decision-making (Chapter 2), and increased visual attention from observers whose gaze was monitored with an eye-tracking device (Chapter 3). Subsequent studies explored the ethological underpinnings of these rank-attaining strategies by examining the verbal styles and nonverbal behaviors displayed by Dominant and Prestigious individuals during the group interactions. Detailed behavioral coding revealed that whereas Dominance was signaled through intimidating and self-entitling verbal styles and spatially expansive and aggressive postural displays, Prestige was signaled through socially attractive and self-deprecating verbal styles and confidence-signaling nonverbal movements (Chapters 4-5). Furthermore, Dominant individuals signaled their formidability by lowering their vocal pitch during the initial minutes of the group interaction (Chapter 6). In contrast, Prestige was not systematically associated with alterations in pitch. Collectively, these studies demonstrate that Dominance and Prestige are independent yet both viable strategies for ascending the social hierarchy, and are each underpinned by distinct, theoretically predictable patterns of verbal styles and nonverbal behaviors.

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