Two ways to the top: Evidence that dominance and prestige are distinct yet viable avenues to social rank and influence

Joey T. Cheng, Jessica L. Tracy, Tom Foulsham, Alan Kingstone, Joseph Henrich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The pursuit of social rank is a recurrent and pervasive challenge faced by individuals in all human societies. Yet, the precise means through which individuals compete for social standing remains unclear. In 2 studies, we investigated the impact of 2 fundamental strategies-Dominance (the use of force and intimidation to induce fear) and Prestige (the sharing of expertise or know-how to gain respect)-on the attainment of social rank, which we conceptualized as the acquisition of (a) perceived influence over others (Study 1), (b) actual influence over others' behaviors (Study 1), and (c) others' visual attention (Study 2). Study 1 examined the process of hierarchy formation among a group of previously unacquainted individuals, who provided round-robin judgments of each other after completing a group task. Results indicated that the adoption of either a Dominance or Prestige strategy promoted perceptions of greater influence, by both group members and outside observers, and higher levels of actual influence, based on a behavioral measure. These effects were not driven by popularity; in fact, those who adopted a Prestige strategy were viewed as likable, whereas those who adopted a Dominance strategy were not well liked. In Study 2, participants viewed brief video clips of group interactions from Study 1 while their gaze was monitored with an eye tracker. Dominant and Prestigious targets each received greater visual attention than targets low on either dimension. Together, these findings demonstrate that Dominance and Prestige are distinct yet viable strategies for ascending the social hierarchy, consistent with evolutionary theory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)103-125
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Dominance
  • Prestige
  • Social hierarchy
  • Social influence
  • Social status

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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