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Journal Article

The Denigration of Heroes? How the Status Attainment Process Shapes Attributions of Considerateness and Authenticity

Oliver Hahl and Ezra W. Zuckerman
American Journal of Sociology
Vol. 120, No. 2 (September 2014), pp. 504-554
DOI: 10.1086/678304
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/678304
Page Count: 51
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The Denigration of Heroes? How the Status Attainment Process Shapes Attributions of Considerateness and Authenticity
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Abstract

This article develops and tests a theory to explain the common tendency to “denigrate heroes,” whereby high-status actors are suspected of being inconsiderate and inauthentic relative to low-status counterparts. This tendency is argued to reflect two conditions typical of status attainment processes: (a) assertions of superiority over others and (b) the presence of incentives to pursue status. The latter is key since awareness of such incentives breeds suspicions of inauthenticity, which in turn undermine perceptions of prosocial intentions. This theory is validated in a series of online experiments, in which categorical status hierarchies emerge either via deference on a coordinated task or via competitive interactions. Results show that high-status actors may also be “celebrated” as authentic and considerate when the observable incentive structure is such that assertions of superiority appear as unintended by-products of prosocial action. Implications are drawn regarding the sources of instability and insecurity in status hierarchies.

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