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High-Status Individuals View the World Through Rose-Colored Glasses

To Be Published in the Personality and Social Psychology Journal

Nathan Pettit status research

...participants who felt in a state of high status reported hearing louder applause and seeing more favorable facial expressions in reaction to their performance than did participants in a state of low status.

“Believing is seeing” for people with high status, and because they expect the world to respond favorably to them, they perceive that it does, say NYU Stern Assistant Professor of Management Nathan Pettit and his co-author Nino Sivanathan of London Business School in “The Eyes and Ears of Status: How Status Colors Perceptual Judgment” (to be published in the May issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Journal).

The research suggests that people of high status may perceive feedback as more positive than it actually is. It also indicates that holding high status may have benefits for psychological well-being. Conversely, it demonstrates that those in low status states read feedback signals such as facial expressions and applause more accurately.

In four studies, the professors show that participants who felt in a state of high status reported hearing louder applause and seeing more favorable facial expressions in reaction to their performance than did participants in a state of low status. In one example, when participants were shown images of an audience reacting to their performance in which 50% of audience members had positive facial expressions and 50% had negative expressions, those in high status states perceived that 64% were favorable, while those in low status states accurately perceived that 50% were favorable.

To speak with Professor Nathan Pettit, please contact him directly at 212-998-0569, npettit@stern.nyu.edu, or contact Anna Christensen in NYU Stern’s Office of Public Affairs at 212-998-0561, achriste@stern.nyu.edu.