Cues of Social Status: Associations Between Attractiveness, Dominance, and Status

Evol Psychol. 2021 Oct;19(0):14747049211056160. doi: 10.1177/14747049211056160.


Hierarchies naturally emerge in social species, and judgments of status in these hierarchies have consequences for social relationships and health. Although judgments of social status are shaped by appearance, the physical cues that inform judgments of status remain unclear. The transition to college presents an opportunity to examine judgments of social status in a newly developing social hierarchy. We examined whether appearances-as measured by raters' judgments of photographs and videos-provide information about undergraduate students' social status at their university and in society in Study 1. Exploratory analyses investigated whether associations differed by participants' sex. Eighty-one first-year undergraduate students (Mage = 18.20, SD = 0.50; 64.2% female) provided photographs and videos and reported their social status relative to university peers and relative to other people in society. As hypothesized, when participants were judged to be more attractive and dominant they were also judged to have higher status. These associations were replicated in two additional samples of raters who evaluated smiling and neutral photographs from the Chicago Faces Database in Study 2. Multilevel models also revealed that college students with higher self-reported university social status were judged to have higher status, attractiveness, and dominance, although judgments were not related to self-reported society social status. Findings highlight that there is agreement between self-reports of university status and observer-perceptions of status based solely on photographs and videos, and suggest that appearance may shape newly developing social hierarchies, such as those that emerge during the transition to college.

Keywords: appearance; attractiveness; dominance; status; subjective social status.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Cues*
  • Female
  • Hierarchy, Social
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Male
  • Social Status*
  • Students