Hardwired for hierarchy

Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

Harold Jarche pointed me to this: Human Brain Appears “Hard-Wired” for Hierarchy

I must get round to writing a caveat about my and others’ casual use of this word “hardwired” to describe the organic operations of the brain. It’s very easy to get into linear cause-and-effect filtering in pursuit of a good story. For now, please imagine appropriate boilerplate.

It seems we respond similarly to shifts in status as to changes in monetary rewards. (My first ad agency constantly exploited this, creating all manner of new job titles to confer pseudopromotions without any increase in pay. The lower ranks suggested they create a fruit machine to jumble up words like “associate” “senior” “assistant” on reel 1, “account” “creative” “planning” etc on reel 2 and “director” “manager” “executive” “controller” on reel 3. That’s how they could keep up the supply of hollow status games. My offer to be called teaboy but get a decent pay rise fell on deaf ears.)

It seems that high status also drives the bit of us that’s into action planning. That’s a neat bit of science to back up my longstanding sense that many people who talk about the need for action in meetings are playing a high status game.

Then there’s this:

The more positive the mood experienced by participants while at the top of an unstable hierarchy, the stronger was activity in this emotional pain circuitry when they viewed an outcome that threatened to move them down in status. In other words, people who felt more joy when they won also felt more pain when they lost.

You can see how this can lead hierarchies to increasing pivot to greater inequality, until they become quite unstable.


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