Eftychia Stamkou: "The dynamic nature of social hierarchies: The role of norm violations and hierarchical concerns"

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Eftychia Stamkou: "The dynamic nature of social hierarchies: The role of norm violations and hierarchical concerns"

On January 30, 2018 Eftychia Stamkou successfully defended the PhD thesis entitled "The dynamic nature of social hierarchies: The role of norm violations and hierarchical concerns" at University of Amsterdam (UvA).

prof. dr. Gerben A. Van Kleef
prof. dr. Astrid C. Homan


Social hierarchy is a fundamental feature of social relations (Fiske, 1992; Sapolsky, 2005). Hierarchies are appealing psychologically because they clarify roles and facilitate group functioning, which explains why they tend to be reinforced and perpetuated (Magee & Galinsky, 2008). Hierarchies, however, can also become unstable and eventually undergo change because people are motivated to compete for a higher rank and the benefits that come with it (Anderson et al., 2012, 2015; Brief et al., 2001; Leavitt, 2005; Tannenbaum et al., 1974). This begs the question of how one ascends the hierarchy. One may demonstrate skills to gain prestige, but one may also attempt to climb the ladder through the demonstration of dominance displays, such as norm-violating behavior (Cheng et al., 2013; Henrich & Gil-White, 2001; Van Kleef, Homan, Finkenauer, Gündemir, & Stamkou, 2011). Norm violations, however, create irregularities and may instigate a status quo change depending on how people respond to them (Friesen et al., 2014).
So how do people’s responses to norm violations influence the transgressor’s potential to climb the ladder? Previous research is inconclusive: Norm violators obstruct group functioning, which decreases their possibility to be supported in higher ranks of the hierarchy, but they also seem powerful in the eyes of others, which enhances their chances to be supported (Van Kleef et al., 2015). To shed more light on these contradictory findings, we proposed that people’s responses to norm violators depend on the context and we examined this idea in four empirical chapters. More specifically, we studied the cultural context where a particular norm violation occurs (Chapter 2), the leeway of the domain in which a norm violation is evaluated (Chapter 3), and the involvement of the observer’s self-interest (Chapter 4). Our studies suggested that people’s concerns about their own position in the hierarchy (i.e., hierarchical concerns) are crucial in understanding their responses to a norm violator, since the violator’s behavior threatens the established status quo and may subsequently alter their position. We therefore expected that hierarchical concerns may also shape people’s attention to other information that signals a threat to their position, such as emotions that have informative value in the context of a hierarchical struggle (Chapter 5).

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