Toward a unified science of hierarchy: Dominance and prestige are two fundamental pathways to human social rank

Joey T. Cheng, Jessica L. Tracy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The pursuit of social status is a recurrent and pervasive challenge faced by individuals in all human societies. Yet, the precise means through which individuals compete for and effectively acquire social standing remains unclear. Despite a large literature examining the factors that lead to rank differentiation, this body of work currently lacks a unifying framework. The current chapter addresses this gap by proposing the adoption of the Dominance-Prestige Account, an evolutionary framework that proposes two distinct pathways to rank attainment in human societies: dominance, or the use of force and intimidation to induce fear, and prestige, or the sharing of expertise or know-how to gain respect. Here, we show how this account provides a parsimonious explanation for the large body of previously disconnected findings that have emerged on rank attainment, and demonstrate that it offers the additional benefit of explaining why various behaviors, traits, and attributes effectively promote rank, rather than simply describe which of these factors promote rank. In light of its parsimony and explanatory power, we advocate the Dominance-Prestige Account as an empirically grounded framework for organizing, understanding, and generating research on human social rank dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Psychology of Social Status
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9781493908677
ISBN (Print)1493908669, 9781493908660
StatePublished - Apr 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Dominance
  • Fear
  • Hierarchy
  • Prestige
  • Respect
  • Social status

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Toward a unified science of hierarchy: Dominance and prestige are two fundamental pathways to human social rank'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this