Social hierarchy constitutes a fundamental characteristic prevalent in the majority of existing societies. Hierarchy refers to the ranking of members in social groups based on the power, influence, or dominance, whereby some members are superior or subordinate to others. Notably, the organization of social groups into a hierarchy serves an important adaptive mechanism that benefits the group as a whole.
From the extensive literature regarding hierarchies, there are several important conclusions that can be drawn: (1) social hierarchies are a natural and necessary part of social groups; (2) status has a profound effect on the human cognitive process and behavior; (3) our understanding of the neural mechanisms involved in the processing of status is still limited, leaving a multitude of unresolved questions.
Social status plays a fundamental role in shaping individual identities, influencing interpersonal dynamics, and determining access to resources and opportunities within societies. Social status serves as a measure of social worth, granting individuals privileges, respect, and influence, while also establishing hierarchies that organize and structure social systems.
Three key factors – dominance, prestige, and wealth – determine one’s position in the social hierarchy model. Dominance and prestige reflect two evolutionarily distinct routes to gaining status and influence. Prestige is achieved by having specialized skills, whereas dominant individuals use threat or fear to exert influence over others. Wealth has historically served as a defining factor in social stratification, with individuals belonging to higher social classes amassing greater wealth, while those in lower social classes possess less.
Status symbols hold significance in society for various reasons. Firstly, they serve as visible indicators of one’s social standing. By displaying status symbols, individuals can communicate their success, wealth, or influence to others, shaping how they are perceived and respected within their community.
Secondly, status symbols can fulfill psychological needs such as self-esteem and social validation. Possessing or displaying status symbols can boost one’s confidence and provide a sense of belonging or acceptance within a particular social group. Status symbols can also help individuals establish their place in society.