I've come across this paper titled "Social status modulates prosocial behaviour and egalitarianism in preschool children and adults". The human dynamics the paper describes when looking at high vs. low socioeconomic status (SES) - perceived or actual - are fascinating. The full article is behind a pay-wall but I found the US$10 well worth it for being able to read the entirety of the piece.
The principle notion (fact) that is sticking hard in my mind is the difference in prosocial behaviours that are exhibited from someone with lower or higher SES.
If your social status is lower then you seem to be more likely to invest in more prosocial behaviours. This may be a very useful coping strategy that has evolved in humans. If you don't have higher hierarchical status then being supportive and collaborative with others affords you benefits and counteracts the disadvantages of being "lower in the pecking order".
If your social status is higher then you may invest your efforts in maintaining your position rather than investing in prosocial behaviours.
I'm very much the layman here so take the above as my highly abbreviated interpretation. I'm also trying not to rush to conclusions.
What reading this paper is doing for me is making me raise some questions over what we see and perhaps could expect to see in organisations. For instance...
- How much collaboration can we expect to see at higher levels in organisations?
- What does the promotion of prosocial collaboration say about the promoters and participants?
- How is collaboration seen and interpreted in social groups over time?
- If collaboration allows us to cope, if over time we gain hierarchical advantages do we collaborate less?
- Given the potential hierarchical threats to executives, could positive regard from someone who is independent of the hierarchy be just as important a factor as the thinking and challenge elicited by executive coaches? Is external coaching legitimately a better solution the higher up the organisation you go regardless of costs?
- Do these dynamics describe who we (humans) truly are or can we consciously behave differently?
- Is the rhetoric about flatter, collaborative organisations meaningful or slightly flawed?
I'd love to engage the author with what this may mean for us working in organisational contexts.
In the meantime, would welcome your thoughts & comments.
Humans are a cooperative species, capable of altruism and the creation of shared norms that ensure fairness in society. However, individuals with different educational, cultural, economic, or ethnic backgrounds differ in their levels of social investment and endorsement of egalitarian values. We present four experiments showing that subtle cues to social status (i.e., prestige and reputation in the eyes of others) modulate prosocial orientation. The experiments found that individuals who experienced low status showed more communal and prosocial behavior, and endorsed more egalitarian life goals and values compared with those who experienced high status. Behavioral differences across high- and low-status positions appeared early in human ontogeny (4–5 y of age).