The original karma system

Prestige / dominance. Status hierarchies, as seen in cooperation and leveraged in reputation systems. Part of our moral wetware

Much of this research comes from Joseph Henrich, Kevin Laland and Jessica Tracy.

Kevin Simler in Minimum Viable Superorganism, casts the problem of cooperation outside the family unit as generation a superorganism by setting up a “prestige economy”, with some nice phrases to support his case. (This is a complement to his intro to status post.) It’s missing things you’d need for a comprehensive account of human cooperation (fuller account of relations of this idea to altruistic punishment, generalised reciprocity etc) but coins excellent phrases and is a workable first-order approximation/perspective. cf the effectiveness of reputation systems as motivation.

Councillor on shoulders of spokesman, David Livingstone’s Missionary travels and researches in South Africa (1857)

(Jiménez and Mesoudi 2019):

According to Henrich and Gil-White (2001), people use, not necessarily consciously, two distinct strategies to acquire and maintain high social rank: dominance and prestige […] The dominance strategy involves causing, or threatening to induce, costs to other individuals. If the use of this strategy is successful, this elicits fear in the other individuals, who defer and submit to the wishes of the dominant individual to avoid the potential costs. In contrast, the prestige strategy involves displaying competence in valued domains. If the use of this strategy is successful, this elicits admiration in other individuals, who defer and submit to the wishes of the prestigious individual in order to gain access to, and thus socially learn from, this individual, and to acquire other benefits such as private and public goods […]. Although the successful use of both strategies leads to receiving deference from other individuals, the key distinction between them is that dominant individuals receive coerced deference, while prestigious individuals receive voluntary (or ‘freely-conferred’) deference.

Wedding of Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, and Margarita Teresa, Infanta of Spain

Another curious framing/critique which shines a light on this is due to Scott Alexander, who notes Financial Incentives Are Weaker Than Social Incentives But Very Important Anyway, responding to (Duflo and Banerjee 2019).


Venkatesh Rao

Here is a pop-science game with some poetical examples. Will Storr, We all play the status game, but who are the real winners?.

Felix Suessenbach, Differentiate the Power Motive into Dominance, Prestige, and Leadership: New Tool and Theory.

DeDeo and Hobson (2021) on Kawakatsu et al. (2021):

Their work (1) reveals two distinct regimes—one egalitarian, one hierarchical—that emerge from shifts in individual-level judgment. These lead to statistical methods that researchers can use to reverse engineer observed hierarchies, and understand how signaling systems work when prestige and power are in play. The results make a singular contribution at the intersection of two distinct traditions of research into social power: the mechanistic (how hierarchies get made) and the functional (the adaptive roles they can play in society).[…]

The process is governed by two “psychological” parameters: an individual’s tendency to endorse those high in the hierarchy (the “preference for prestige”), and to focus on those nearby (the “preference for proximity”). These preferences are cashed out, satisfyingly, in utility theory, where your utility for endorsing another is a function of their rank (the preference of prestige), and the squared difference of rank between you and them (the preference for proximity). Under a broad range of conditions, what matters is the preference for prestige. At a critical point in this preference, the system undergoes a discontinuous (second-order) transition between an egalitarian system, with few real differences in social power, and a hierarchical one, where a few oligarchs receive the lion’s share of prestige.

Weaponized victimhood

This is not quite a status thing; perhaps needs refiling under institutions for angels. For now, mention/raid citations from Cory Clark.



Arbilly, Michal, and Kevin N. Laland. 2017. The Magnitude of Innovation and Its Evolution in Social Animals.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 284 (1848).
Balkin, J. M. 1997. The Constitution of Status.” The Yale Law Journal 106 (8): 2313.
Becker, Mark W., Reem Alzahabi, and Christopher J. Hopwood. 2012. Media Multitasking Is Associated with Symptoms of Depression and Social Anxiety.” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 16 (2): 132–35.
Brown-Iannuzzi, Jazmin L., Kristjen B. Lundberg, Aaron C. Kay, and B. Keith Payne. 2021. A Privileged Point of View: Effects of Subjective Socioeconomic Status on Naïve Realism and Political Division.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 47 (2): 241–56.
Cheng, Joey T., Jessica L. Tracy, and Joseph Henrich. 2010. Pride, Personality, and the Evolutionary Foundations of Human Social Status.” Evolution and Human Behavior 31 (5): 334–47.
Chu, Johan S. G., and James A. Evans. 2021. Slowed Canonical Progress in Large Fields of Science.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 118 (41): e2021636118.
Cooley, Erin, Jazmin L. Brown-Iannuzzi, Ryan F. Lei, William Cipolli III, and Lauren E. Philbrook. 2021. The Policy Implications of Feeling Relatively Low Versus High Status Within a Privileged Group. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 150 (11): 2346.
Currid-Halkett, Elizabeth. 2017. Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class. 1st edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
DeDeo, Simon, and Elizabeth A. Hobson. 2021. From Equality to Hierarchy.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 118 (21): e2106186118.
Duflo, Esther, and Abhijit Banerjee. 2019. Opinion | Economic Incentives Don’t Always Do What We Want Them To.” The New York Times, October 26, 2019, sec. Opinion.
Fliessbach, K., B. Weber, P. Trautner, T. Dohmen, U. Sunde, C. E. Elger, and A. Falk. 2007. Social Comparison Affects Reward-Related Brain Activity in the Human Ventral Striatum.” Science 318 (5854): 1305–8.
Gould, Roger V. 2002. The Origins of Status Hierarchies: A Formal Theory and Empirical Test.” American Journal of Sociology 107 (5): 1143–78.
Henrich, Joseph, and Francisco J. Gil-White. 2001. The Evolution of Prestige: Freely Conferred Deference as a Mechanism for Enhancing the Benefits of Cultural Transmission.” Evolution and Human Behavior 22 (3): 165–96.
Hirsch, Fred. 2013. Social Limits to Growth.” In Social Limits to Growth. Harvard University Press.
Hoppitt, William, and Kevin N. Laland. 2013. Social Learning: An Introduction to Mechanisms, Methods, and Models. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Jiménez, Ángel V., and Alex Mesoudi. 2019. Prestige-Biased Social Learning: Current Evidence and Outstanding Questions.” Palgrave Communications 5 (1): 1–12.
Kawakatsu, Mari, Philip S. Chodrow, Nicole Eikmeier, and Daniel B. Larremore. 2021. Emergence of Hierarchy in Networked Endorsement Dynamics.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 118 (16): e2015188118.
Laland, Kevin N. 2004. Social Learning Strategies.” Animal Learning & Behavior 32 (1): 4–14.
———. 2017. Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Explains the Evolution of the Human Mind. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Lin, Liu yi, Jaime E. Sidani, Ariel Shensa, Ana Radovic, Elizabeth Miller, Jason B. Colditz, Beth L. Hoffman, Leila M. Giles, and Brian A. Primack. 2016. Association Between Social Media Use and Depression Among U.S. Young Adults.” Depression and Anxiety 33 (4): 323–31.
Maner, Jon K. 2017. Dominance and Prestige: A Tale of Two Hierarchies.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 26 (6): 526–31.
Marx, W. David. 2022. Status and Culture: How Our Desire for Higher Social Rank Shapes Identity, Fosters Creativity, and Changes the World. New York, NY: Viking.
Mead, Nicole L., and Jon K. Maner. 2012. On Keeping Your Enemies Close: Powerful Leaders Seek Proximity to Ingroup Power Threats.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 102 (3): 576–91.
Mead, Nicole, and Jon Maner. 2012. When Me Versus You Becomes Us Versus Them: How Intergroup Competition Shapes Ingroup Psychology.” Social and Personality Psychology Compass 6 (8): 566–74.
Murphy, Ryan H. 2020. Markets Against Modernity: Ecological Irrationality, Public and Private. Capitalist Thought : Studies in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books.
Post, Daniel J. van der, Mathias Franz, and Kevin N. Laland. 2016. Skill Learning and the Evolution of Social Learning Mechanisms.” BMC Evolutionary Biology 16 (1): 166.
Pratto, Felicia, Jim Sidanius, and Shana Levin. 2006. Social Dominance Theory and the Dynamics of Intergroup Relations: Taking Stock and Looking Forward.” European Review of Social Psychology 17 (1): 271–320.
Primack, Brian A., Ariel Shensa, César G. Escobar-Viera, Erica L. Barrett, Jaime E. Sidani, Jason B. Colditz, and A. Everette James. 2017. Use of Multiple Social Media Platforms and Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety: A Nationally-Representative Study Among U.S. Young Adults.” Computers in Human Behavior 69 (April): 1–9.
Sidanius, Jim, James H. Liu, John S. Shaw, and Felicia Pratto. 1994. Social Dominance Orientation, Hierarchy Attenuators and Hierarchy Enhancers: Social Dominance Theory and the Criminal Justice System.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology 24 (4): 338–66.
Simler, Kevin, and Robin Hanson. 2018. The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life. 1 edition. New York: Oxford University Press.
Storr, Will. 2021. The Status Game: On Human Life and How to Play It. London: HarperCollins GB.
Tracy, Jessica L., and Richard W. Robins. 2007. Emerging Insights Into the Nature and Function of Pride.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 16 (3): 147–50.
Tracy, Jessica L., Azim F. Shariff, and Joey T. Cheng. 2010. A Naturalist’s View of Pride.” Emotion Review 2 (2): 163–77.
Velde, Vera L. te. 2022. Heterogeneous Norms: Social Image and Social Pressure When People Disagree.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 194 (February): 319–40.
Willer, Robb, Ko Kuwabara, and Michael W. Macy. 2009. The False Enforcement of Unpopular Norms.” American Journal of Sociology 115 (2): 451–90.

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