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2019 International Association for Conflict Management Conference

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The Preference for Second Rank

Keywords: hierarchy, status, social rank, responsibility

Abstract: Social hierarchy research assumes that most people prefer to attain the highest social rank possible. Yet two studies shows that many people prefer to rank second—not first—on the dimensions of status and influence. In a field survey using project teams (Study 1), 64% of participants reported that they aspired to rank second. A similar pattern was observed in a lab setting (Study 2). When ranks only represented achievement, ranking first was the dominant preference. But in a group task context, where ranks carried role expectations, ranking second was the dominant preference, and this was true even when participants knew there was no one more qualified to rank first based on task competence. In contrast to the notion that rank preferences are monotonic, our findings suggest that oftentimes, individuals’ upward motivation might end at the second rank. Implications for functional hierarchy and group performance are discussed.

Emily Reit, Stanford University Graduate School of Business

Deborah Gruenfeld, Stanford University Graduate School of Business

Benoît Monin, Stanford University Graduate School of Business, Stanford University Department of Psychology


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