Prosocial behavior and social status

Sara Kafashan, Adam Sparks, Vladas Griskevicius, Pat Barclay

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

44 Scopus citations


Humans are a very prosocial species, in that we often help others even at a cost to ourselves. Such behavior affects- and is affected by-a person's social status. In the current chapter, we examine the interactions between social status and prosocial behavior, and we show that causation goes in both directions. On the one hand, laboratory and field evidence show that prosocial behavior can be a means of achieving, or maintaining, elevated status and accessing the accompanying material and social rewards. On the other hand, possessing status can also affect prosocial behavior (for better or worse) by altering the costs and benefits of prosociality, for example, by affecting people's dependence on others, their vested interest in others, their ability to be prosocial, and their need for status maintenance. Status thus influences the use of prosocial behavior, but can increase it or decrease it depending on the context and the specific type of prosocial behavior. By understanding this bi-directional causation and applying it, we can harness people's desire for status to promote prosocial behaviors by ensuring its visibility and by fostering competitive altruism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Psychology of Social Status
PublisherSpringer New York
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781493908677
ISBN (Print)1493908669, 9781493908660
StatePublished - Apr 1 2014


  • Competitive altruism
  • Cooperation
  • Dependence
  • Noblesse oblige
  • Reputation
  • Vested interest


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