Why do nominal characteristics acquire status value? A minimal explanation for status construction.

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Why do beliefs that attach different amounts of status to different categories of people become consensually held by the members of a society? We show that two microlevel mechanisms, in combination, imply a system-level tendency toward consensual status beliefs about a nominal characteristic. (1) Status belief diffusion: a person who has no status belief about a characteristic can acquire a status belief about that characteristic from interacting with one or more people who have that status belief. (2) Status belief loss: a person who has a status belief about a characteristic can lose that belief from interacting with one or more people who have the opposite status belief. These mechanisms imply that opposite status beliefs will tend to be lost at equal rates and will tend to be acquired at rates proportional to their prevalence. Therefore, if a status belief ever becomes more prevalent than its opposite, it will increase in prevalence until every person holds it.







Lynn Smith-Lovin

Robert L. Wilson Professor Distinguished of Sociology

I study emotion, identity, and action. I’m interested in the basic question of how identities affect social interaction. I use experimental, observational, survey and simulation methods to describe how identities, actions and emotions are interrelated. The experiments I do usually involve creating social situations where unusual things happen to people, then seeing how they respond behaviorally or emotionally. I observe small task group interactions to see how identities influence conversational behavior. My survey work often focuses on gender and other social positions that influence the groups and networks in which people are imbedded. My simulations studies involve affect control theory, a mathematical model of how identities, actions and emotions affect one another. Now, I’m putting affect control theory together with McPherson’s ecological theory of affiliation to show how social systems, identities, and emotional experience are connected.

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