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Hierarchy stability moderates the effect of status on stress and performance in humans

Knight, EL; Mehta, PH; (2017) Hierarchy stability moderates the effect of status on stress and performance in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America , 114 (1) pp. 78-83. 10.1073/pnas.1609811114. Green open access

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Abstract

High social status reduces stress responses in numerous species, but the stress-buffering effect of status may dissipate or even reverse during times of hierarchical instability. In an experimental test of this hypothesis, 118 participants (57.3% female) were randomly assigned to a high- or low-status position in a stable or unstable hierarchy and were then exposed to a social-evaluative stressor (a mock job interview). High status in a stable hierarchy buffered stress responses and improved interview performance, but high status in an unstable hierarchy boosted stress responses and did not lead to better performance. This general pattern of effects was observed across endocrine (cortisol and testosterone), psychological (feeling in control), and behavioral (competence, dominance, and warmth) responses to the stressor. The joint influence of status and hierarchy stability on interview performance was explained by feelings of control and testosterone reactivity. Greater feelings of control predicted enhanced interview performance, whereas increased testosterone reactivity predicted worse performance. These results provide direct causal evidence that high status confers adaptive benefits for stress reduction and performance only when the social hierarchy is stable. When the hierarchy is unstable, high status actually exacerbates stress responses.

Type: Article
Title: Hierarchy stability moderates the effect of status on stress and performance in humans
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1609811114
Publisher version: http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1609811114
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Experimental Psychology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10040151
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