The personality traits that elevate your social status

Certain personality traits and behaviours may have a big influence on your social status, according to a study by evolutionary psychologists at The University of Texas at Austin.

The study of 2,751 individuals in 14 countries identified universally valued qualities that can help a person climb the social ladder all over the world. The researchers also identified universal double-standards that socially reward men but punish women for the same behaviours. The findings were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and, say the authors “fill an important gap in understanding the psychology behind who rises and falls within human societies.”

The researchers compared people’s impressions of 240 factors, including acts, characteristics, and events, to identify which ones increased and which ones impaired a person’s esteem in the eyes of others. They found that certain qualities, including being honest, hard-working, kind, and intelligent increased a person’s social value. So did having a wide range of knowledge, making sacrifices for others, and having a good sense of humour.

None of this is surprising, really. I mean, wow. Being honest and hardworking makes people like you more. Who knew? But a takeaway from this study might be the importance of always putting your best foot forward in social situations and of highlighting your embodiment of these characteristics in all your job application materials and on your social media accounts. Because networking is a seven-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year activity.

Also, these qualities will impact your life in a variety of ways.

“Humans live in a social world in which relative rank matters for nearly everything — your access to resources, your ability to attract mates, and even how long you live,” said UT Austin evolutionary psychologist David Buss, one of the study’s lead authors. “From an evolutionary perspective, reproductively relevant resources flow to those high in status and trickle slowly, if at all, to those lower on the social totem pole.”

And psychology graduate student Patrick Durkee, who led the study with Buss, said, “From the Gypsies in Romania to the native islanders of Guam, people displaying intelligence, bravery and leadership rise in rank in the eyes of their peers. But possessing qualities that inflict costs on others will cause your status to plummet, whether you live in Russia or Eritrea.”

Among the factors that decreased a person’s social status or value were being known as a thief, as dirty or unclean, as mean or nasty, acquiring a sexually transmitted disease, and bringing shame on one’s family.

“Although this study was conducted prior to the current pandemic, it’s interesting that being a disease vector is universally detrimental to a person’s status,” Buss said. “Socially transmitted diseases are evolutionarily ancient challenges to human survival, so humans have psychological adaptations to avoid them. Lowering a person’s social status is an evolutionarily ancient method of social distancing from disease vectors.”

Demonstrating bravery and physical formidability and taking risks to protect your friends was more status-enhancing for men than women, while women were more valued socially for qualities relating to domestic skills and attractiveness.

Meanwhile, the old gender-based standards remain strong when it comes to sexual behaviour. Sexual promiscuity decreased the status of both genders, but hurt women considerably more, even in the most sexually egalitarian cultures in the study. Conversely, attaining a committed long-term mate increased the status of both genders, but somewhat more so for women. Fidelity increased the status of both women and men substantially and equally, and remaining in a committed long-term relationship increased the status of both genders, but more so for women.

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