The "status" hypothesis simply claims that we associate one another with a one-dimensional quantity: the perceived degree to which others' behavior can affect our well-being. And each of us behaves toward our peers according to our internally represented status mapping.
Imagine that, within your group, you're in a position where everyone wants to please you and no one can afford to challenge you. What does this mean for your behavior? It means you get to act selfish -- focusing on what makes you most pleased, and becoming less sensitive to lower-grade pleasure stimuli.
Now let's say you meet an outsider. They want to estimate your status, because it's a useful and efficient value to remember. And when they see you acting selfishly in front of others in your group, they will infer the lopsided balance of power.
In your own life, when you interact with someone who could affect your well-being, you do your best to act in a way that is valuable to them, hoping they will be motivated to reciprocate. The thing is, if an observer witnesses your unselfish behavior, it's a telltale sign of your lower status. And this scenario is so general, and so common, that most people learn to be very observant of others' deviations from selfishness.
On Less Wrong, we already understand the phenomenon of status signaling -- the causal link from status to behavior, and the inferential link from behavior to status. If we also recognize the role of selfishness as a reliable status signal, we can gain a lot of predictive power about which specific behavioral mannerisms are high- and low-status.
Are each of the following high- or low-status?
1. Standing up straight
2. Saying what's on your mind, without thinking it through
3. Making an effort to have a pleasant conversation
4. Wearing the most comfortable possible clothes
5. Apologizing to someone you've wronged
6. Blowing your nose in front of people
7. Asking for permission
8. Showing off
1. Standing up straight is low-status, because you're obviously doing it to make an impression on others -- there's no first-order benefit to yourself.
2. Saying what's on your mind is high-status, because you're doing something pleasurable. This signal is most reliable when what you say doesn't have any intellectual merit.
3. Making an effort to have a pleasant conversation is low-status. It's high-status to talk about what you care about.
4. Wearing the most comfortable possible clothes is high-status, because you're clearly benefiting yourself. (Dressing in fashionable clothes is also high-status, through a different inferential pathway.)
5. Apologizing is low-status because you're obviously not doing it for yourself.
6. Blowing your nose is high-status because it's pleasurable and shows that you aren't affected enough by others to stop.
7. Asking for permission is low-status. Compare: recognizing that proceeding would be pleasurable, and believing that you are immune to any negative consequences.
8. Showing off is low-status, because it reveals that the prospect of impressing your peers drives you to do things which aren't first-order selfish. (Of course, the thing you are showing off might legitimately signal status.)
Pwno's post makes a good related point: The most reliable high-status signal is indifference. If you're indifferent to a person, it means their behavior doesn't even factor into your expectation of well-being. It means your computational resources are too limited to allocate them their own variable, since its value matters so little. How could you act indifferent if you weren't high-status?
For me, the answer for each question appears to be "both".
Standing up straight-- High: Politician addressing an audience, wanting to show confidence Low: Soldier, at attention
Saying what's on your mind, without thinking it through-- High: Confident person, assured of their status in the group Low: Person revealing emotions which are considered taboo to discuss.
Making an effort to have a pleasant conversation-- High: Skilled businessman or other "people person" trying motivated to accomplish a positive outcome with that person. Low: Service industry person who must be deferential to keep their job
Wearing the most comfortable possible clothes-- High: The business owner who can wear whatever they want and still be paid attention to because of their innate value Low: The slacker who has stopped caring about their sweapants and stained shirt
Apologizing to someone you've wronged-- High: The conscientious, strong, professional person with integrity who has the wisdom do recognize their mistake and seeks to keep lines of communication open and maintain an honest and fair relationship. Low: Someone who must apologize for violating a social norm.
This is not particularly accurate, or, more precisely, I'd like to see evidence that this is how people act. The president of the US, for example, cannot act strictly selfishly. Kings of old generally couldn't either - they had nobles to keep happy and so forth. While there are cases where selfishness is an option because of high status, there are many cases where people prevent themselves from being successful because they are selfish. Indeed, there are many people who are unsuccessful because they are particularly disagreeable - they'd need to be high status to get away with their behaviour, and they're not, so they don't. Thus, merely observing that someone is selfish is, in a Bayesian sense, not even necessarily evidence that they are high status.
This post is yet further evidence that one should approach any status-based explanation with extreme skepticism. Saying that "S... (read more)
I think a much better, more general principle is "you gain status among members of a group by making efforts which have no other point, because that shows you care enough about the group to be loyal and commit your own resources." This is a large part, for example, of why fraternities haze people- anyone willing to go through the hazing must care a lot about getting into the fraternity.
"1. Standing up straight is low-status, because you're obviously doing it to make an impression on others -- there's no first-order benefit to yourself."... (read more)
Note that these only work if the group also knows that the person is capable of all these low-status indicators. For example, slouching, not understanding social-niceties and manners, not being able to converse, not being able to afford nice clothes or have the sense of fashion to pick decent sets, or not having anything worth showing off are all low-status indicators. It's demonstrating the option, not the necessity of these behaviors that is high-status.
I read these examples and it seems to me like a clear case of rational analysis going crazy. You see, there is no systematic basis for the correctness of these interpretations. It may have been established that selfishness can act as a valid interpretation for these examples, but what says that this interpretation is necessarily more correct than any other? Or even that there is a correct interpretation? These questions are far more important, and without answering them, these interpretations are frankly wo... (read more)
As far as I can tell, no one has quite as much status as you're describing, but the best test would probably be to study major dictators, but not expect ordinary high status people to be on a continuum with them
In particular, displays of generosity are a common way of showing status.
Wearing comfortable clothes as a signal of status isn't typical of all civilizations. For a counter-example, consider the Elizabethans.
As with standing up straight where you didn't include a relaxed vertical posture, you're leaving out the practical middle ground about conver... (read more)
If you are in the presence of a dictator, I do not recommend doing the following:
Doing the above (high status) behaviors can, all else being equal, be expected to increase your chances of death. Status is a useful con... (read more)
Observation 4 seems directly contradicted by my personal observations in the corporate setting, where "mere" software engineers wear jeans and t-shirts and their managers tend to wear more formal clothing (shirt, tie, suit) the higher in the hierarchy you go.
Observation 6 seems to make a truckload of cultural assumptions. In workplace settings I'm familiar with (I live in France) it's common to leave boxes of tissues around, and people prefer someone who blows their nose in a group to someone who sniffles constantly. Now in Japan for instance I u... (read more)
IAWYP, and I think you're getting bashed with disagreement in part because you needed some disclaimers. We can all think of counterexamples, but all else being equal you can often tell the hierarchy in an unfamiliar social group by who acts the most selfishly versus who is looking to please others.
This is, of course, not an endorsement of the unrestricted practice of selfishness, especially around here.
The problem with trying to define a list of high status actions is that they are context dependent.
Counter-signalling means that, in a particular context, it could be higher status to perform in a manner that, in any other context, would appear low status.
Under most general circumstances though, good posture is high status (because the assumption is that they just stand like that - not that they are standing like that to make an impression). In general, people don't think as carefully as you about motivations. You are over-iterating your thinking beyond what an average person would ever consider. Go out and look at people on the street and see how the high and low status people stand.
There probably aren't going to be any, due to what the PUAs call "shit testing".
The term refers to deliberate probing behaviors intended to determine someone's status (and therefore attractiveness), by finding out how confident they are in response to resistance, criticism, etc.
This potentially lets the tester get past any faked confidence/status signals, and appears to be triggered by any incongruity or sense that the status-displaying person is "too good to be true".
Or in more Bayesian terms, when an approaching man's status displays indicate higher status than a woman's prior for the status of men approaching her, she will be more inclined to respond in ways that "test" him, in order to determine his true status.
However, the PUAs also generally contend that this process never stops, although it occurs more at first meeting and at any perceived status increase, with "maintenance" testing occurring throughout a relationship.
During these testing p... (read more)
OK, the point of the post was to identify and explain a principle that ties together a set of high-status mannerisms that would otherwise seem disjoint.
The idea that selfishness signals status makes testable predictions that most LW readers would not have made, and it looks like a lot of commenters are defying the data, but I think it is data that people with more anecdotal evidence about how "normal" people act can confirm.
There isn't any data here to defy. Your post is entirely theory.
To echo others, you can't readily define absolute high or low status behaviors. Here's the catch, status is like poker. When you make a high status action it's not immediately asserting high status, it's making a bid for high status. The game changes depending on who you're playing against. As anyone who plays poker knows, the same hand will be played completely differently depending on what sort of hands you estimate you're up against. You might start out modestly, but start getting aggressive when you see how weak everyone else is and vice versa. O... (read more)
Selfishness is a counter signal/handicap http://lesswrong.com/lw/1sa/things_you_cant_countersignal/
How it is interpreted based entirely on your positive singles. Counter signals at best enhance the underlining signal.
If you are high status despite being rude then you must have some trait that compensates for your flaw. If you are low status and rude then you have no trait to compensate for your rudeness.
3 is high status 4 and 6 are low status, as all demonstrate self-control, social clue, etc.
In general higher testosterone signals higher status and produces more generous behavior. It does, however, trigger less fearful and less risk averse behavior.
For reasons I perhaps don't fully understand this, and threads like it are unsettling to me. Doesn't high status confer the ability (and possibly duty, in some contexts) to treat others better, to carry their pack so to speak? Further, acting high status isn't necessary at all if you actually have it (it being the underlying competence status (supposedly, ideally) signifies. I am a high status athlete (in a tiny, circumscribed world) and in social situations try to signify humility, so others won't feel bad. They can't keep up, and if made to feel so, ... (read more)
(Voted back up towards 0.)
False. Slouching is a submissive gesture. It is signalling that you are not making a challenge to the more dominant members. Standing up straight but in a relaxed way is higher status. A strong core, head naturally raised, with gender specific variations. Remainder of the body should not be rigid but convey a balance of comfort and control. Gender specific variations tend to emph... (read more)
Proper posture tends to be more comfortable; surely this is a benefit to myself.
I also apologize to people when I have wronged them, not because they are higher-status than me, but because I do not like being a jackass.
Wow, impressive! This leads to a conundrum -- say that I'm trying to acquire high status to get power to do good, but acquiring and signaling that status requires selfish behavior. It means that even a utility-maximizing strategy could be casually interpreted by many as "hypocritical". This dilemma underscores the hypothesis that in order to achieve any semblance of generally self-consistent "good" requires a society made up of agents besides human ones, agents that can modify their status-appraisal mechanisms to a significant extent.
You could just be clueless.
You are describing second order status effects (status signaled to those analyzing your behavior for first order signaling motivations), which should be corrections to first order effects (status signaled to those taking your actions at face value), as if they were the whole story.