The hierarchical face: higher rankings lead to less cooperative looks

J Appl Psychol. 2012 Mar;97(2):479-86. doi: 10.1037/a0026308. Epub 2011 Nov 14.


In 3 studies, we tested the hypothesis that the higher ranked an individual's group is, the less cooperative the facial expression of that person is judged to be. Study 1 established this effect among business school deans, with observers rating individuals from higher ranked schools as appearing less cooperative, despite lacking prior knowledge of the latters' actual rankings. Study 2 then experimentally manipulated ranking, showing that the effect of rankings on facial expressions is driven by context rather than by individual differences per se. Finally, Study 3 demonstrated that the repercussions of this effect extend beyond the perception of cooperativeness to tangible behavioral outcomes in social interactions. Theoretical and practical implications of this phenomenon are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Hierarchy, Social*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Psychological Tests
  • Social Perception*
  • Young Adult