Fall from Grace: The role of dominance and prestige in the punishment of high-status actors

Journal Article (Journal Article)

When actors transgress social norms, their social status colors the severity with which they are punished. While some argue that high-status transgressors attract severe punishment when accused of ambiguous transgressions, others contend the opposite. In this paper, we attempt to reconcile this theoretical inconsistency. We propose that the capacity for social status to color third-party judgments of transgressions may depend on the status type of high-status actors. Drawing on the evolutionary theory of dominance and prestige as two alternate forms of status within social hierarchies, we suggest that actors associated with dominance-based status will be penalized more harshly than actors whose status is based on prestige. Across multiple studies employing archival field data, controlled lab experiments, and different instantiations of dominance, prestige, and misconduct, we consistently demonstrate that high-status dominant actors are punished more harshly than their prestigious counterparts. Further, we find that attributions of intentionality and lack of moral credentials explain the harsher punishments meted out to dominant (vs. prestigious) high-status actors. In this way, we provide both a parsimonious reconciliation of the inconsistency in the extant literature and a theoretical explanation of how status type of high-status actors differentially impacts the judgment, decisions, and behaviors of third parties.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Kakkar, H; Sivanathan, N; Gobel, MS

Published Date

  • April 1, 2020

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 63 / 2

Start / End Page

  • 530 - 553

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0001-4273

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.5465/amj.2017.0729

Citation Source

  • Scopus