Social Status & Social Interaction Research Paper Starter

Social Status & Social Interaction

(Research Starters)

Factors that play a role in constructing one's social status vary and research will be presented in this article that is intended to increase social meaning and relevance. Insights will also be presented into ways social status impacts interaction in individual, group, and inter-group memberships. Applications regarding social status and interaction are offered through the lens of low self-esteem and age factors. A conclusion is presented suggesting implications for further research into the relevance of social status and its subsequent impact on social interaction.

Keywords Social Class; Social Competence; Social Identity; Social Interaction; Social Mobility; Social Status; Socio-Emotional Selectivity Theory

Social Status


Social Status

Social status can be defined as the rank or placement of an individual in society. Social status can potentially be determined through stratification systems. Social stratification system theories are often multi-level and predictive of ways structural effects interact with communities and the poor (Wolf, 2007). Wolf (2007) further argued that the relationships within this system are contingent upon the effects of social isolation; socially isolated individuals may lack access to other individuals or to human capital, resources, and influence. Arguably, limited resources result in the "lack of access to different kinds of human and social capital, such as financial resources, education, and peer role models…," ultimately resulting… "in a change in community values and aspirations" (p. 53 - 54). These components interplay in forming class systems operating within these sociological systems.

Weber (1978) [1920] indicated that 'class' means all persons in the same class situation. He defined social classes as follows:

• A 'property class' is primarily determined by property differences;

• A 'commercial class' by the marketability of goods and services;

• A 'social class' makes up the totality of those class situations within which individual and generational mobility is easy and typical (p. 302).

Smith (2007) indicated that contemporary sociology offers opportunities for social mobility, which can be understood as "breaking through the boundaries of social classes" (p. 91). Smith interpreted Weber's definition of class, and wrote that "a social class is not a class at all unless mobility takes place within its borders and, crucially, this type of social mobility does not therefore undermine the existence of social classes, but rather defines what these classes are" (pp. 88 - 89). Nesbit (2006) further argued: "Whether we like it or not, at individual, community, and societal levels, everything we believe and everything we do is influenced by our place in an economic and social order" (p. 172). Nesbit further indicated that economic, social, and cultural factors profoundly influence how we live and what we do, and these factors operate within the structures of human societies and human relationships.

Moreover, these factors dictate ways we "accommodate or resist unfairness and oppression," and our own thoughts regarding these phenomena are both limited and enabled by "our place in the economic structure of society" (p. 172). Body image has also been reported as one factor in obtaining positive social status. Reis, Wheeler, Spiegel, Kernis, Nezlek, and Perry (1982) suggested that more physically attractive people rely on their physical attractiveness to gain social influence. As a result, individuals with more physical attractiveness may use their attractiveness to gain social status and thereby improve their group influence. (Nezlek, 1999, p. 796).


According to Tyler (1994), individuals value their group status, because high status validates self-identity, self-esteem, and self-respect. Validation from others causes individuals to continually seek information that confirms that they have a respected position in the group (Diekmann, Sondak,& Barsness, 2007, p. 163). Perceptions of self-status indicate an individual's perceptions of their own regard and approval they receive from others (Van Prooijen, Van den Bos, & Wilke, 2002). According to the "group value model of procedural fairness" (Lind & Tyler, 1988) and the closely aligned relational "model of authority" (Tyler & Lind, 1992), individuals want to understand, establish, and maintain the social bonds that exist between them and others in their group (Tyler, 1994). The treatment that individuals receive in a group enable them to infer their status in a group; for example, if the treatment they receive is respectful and fair, individuals perceive they have a high status in the group. On the other hand, if individuals are treated disrespectfully or unfairly, they infer that they have low status in a group. Information regarding group status subsequently impacts individuals' reactions to procedural fairness (Tyler, 1989; 1994; Van Prooijen et al., 2002). Thus, perceptions of status affect how individuals react to fair or unfair procedures and treatment (Nezlek, 1999).


Through another lens, Nezlek and Smith (2005) argued that the world can be viewed through “in-groups and out-groups, or groups to which we do or do not belong.” To the extent that group memberships determine an individual's internalized self-concept implies our sense of self or what Tajfel and Turner (1986) termed "social identity." While additional research needs to be conducted regarding social identity in terms of understanding social interaction, past research has indicated that "[social identity] unfolds in naturally occurring social interaction" (p. 243).

Social Interaction

Social interaction can be described as an interchangeable sequence of dynamic exchanges through which individuals can attach meaning, intepret, and respond. Interactions take place in multiple ways and are impacted by multiple variables. According to Nezlek, Richardson, Green, and Schatten-Jones (2002), the quality and quantity of human relationships supports psychological well-being. Moreover, "people who report having more satisfying and active social lives tend to report feeling better about themselves and their lives" (p. 57). To support their hypothesis and previous, researched results, Nezlek et al. conducted a study in which they sampled healthy, older, adult participants utilizing a variant of the Rochester Interaction Record (RIR) (Wheeler & Nezlek, 1977). The primary hypothesis guiding the study was that well-being would be positively related to the quality of participant's social lives. Using the RIR, participants were charged with the task of describing the social interactions they had each day for two weeks. These daily reports provided measures of the quality and quantity of participants' daily social interaction and substantiated measures of these two characteristics and various measures of well-being.

The importance of daily social interaction for understanding the well-being of older adults was suggested in part by Carstensen's (1995) "socioemotional selectivity theory." She argued that older adults are more motivated than young people to regulate emotions during social interactions, selecting specific close others for interaction, and limiting the size of social networks (Nezlek, 2002, pp. 57 - 78). Other research suggests that the quality of interaction also relates to well-being. For example, individuals who report lower quality relationships also report lower levels of life satisfaction (O'Connor, 1995). Similarly, Mullins and Dugan (1990) argued that greater satisfaction with the quality of relationships is associated with decreased feelings of loneliness and depression, while other researchers have similarly reported an increased sense of well being in positive relationships (Fox & Gooding, 1998; Ishii-Kuntz, 1990). Other studies resulting in reported well-being in the elderly have also been reported (Beckman, 1981; Ward, Sherman, & LaGlory, 1984). Similarly, just as research suggested that well-being for older people was connected to social constructs, research also suggests that well-being is positively related to how socially active the nonelderly are (O'Connor, 1995) and to the quality of their relationships (Diener & Diener, 1995; McDonough & Munz, 1994).

Social Status

Social status directly results from interaction that directly affects group and social identity. Tajfel (1978) stated that social identity "is a part of an individual's self concept which derives from his knowledge of his membership of a social group (or groups) together with the emotional significance attached to that membership" (p. 63). According to Nezlek and Smith (2005), some people are born into membership such as in the case of race and gender. Others attain it by actively seeking through clubs and political organizations. The social identity theory then would initiate individuals to “maintain a positive social identity, which in turn leads to positive evaluations of the self. Group membership allows a person to reap all of the advantages and positive aspects that are associated with a particular group, such as status” (p. 244).

For example, Harasty (1997) determined that when people were asked to talk about relevant in- and out-groups, individuals spoke more negatively of out-group members than of in-group members. Additionally, when contributing to an interaction, individuals seemed more likely to attribute out-group members' behavior to more stable, dispositional factors than to unstable situational factors (Nezlek & Smith, 2005). Hewstone, Rubin, and Wills (2002) indicated that inter-group bias is moderated by a variety of individual, group, and inter-group factors. Individual factors include identification with the group, mood or education. Group factors include size, status, and power of the group. Inter-group factors include stability of and/or threat to the inter-group hierarchy (Nezlek & Smith, 2005).

Nezlek and Smith report that the “effects of social identity are not limited to increasing the self-esteem of group members. Considerable research suggests that people's social identities can have behavioral implications” (p. 244). They cite Tajfel, Billig, Bundy, and Flament (1971), who determined that a simple division into two groups prompted English schoolboys to treat the opposite group “less favorably” during task related interactions. Insko and Schopler (1998) learned that when people are assigned to groups and directed to engage in the "prisoner's dilemma" task against another group, “they behave more competitively and less cooperatively than when they are not grouped and are told they are playing against an individual” (2005, p. 244-45).

Group Interaction

Group interaction has both positive and negative aspects. For example, members who interact with other members of the in-group may insure their group identity and benefit from the positive aspects of that group membership. However, members involved in group membership and group interaction may also encounter negative aspects of that group membership, including reputation issues or assumption of conformity (Nezlek & Smith, 2005). Biernat, Vescio, and Green (1996) pointed out that, "by interacting with the out-group, people may be able to reflect on their in-group's (perceived) superiority but they may also face an attractive, alternative out-group that they may not be able to join or choose not to join" (Nezlek & Smith, 2005, p. 247). They indicated that while group members may enjoy the positive aspects of belonging to their groups, they are nonetheless aware of the negative components of such membership (p. 246). Thus, Nezlek and Smith point out that social interaction either helps or hinders the pursuit of a positive social identity.


(The entire section is 5222 words.)