Climbing the Social Ladder: Physiological Response to Social Status in Adolescents


Social hierarchies and physiology are intricately linked, but these associations have not been well studied in adolescence, typically a time of increased focus on social status. Three studies were conducted to better understand the relationship between social dominance, personality and related physiological responses of adolescents upon hierarchy formation and after hierarchies were established. Heart rate and salivary cortisol were used as indices of physiological reactivity. Study one investigated the relationship between, social dominance rank, personality and social strategy usage. Study two extended study one with the addition of a reward allocation task and examined heart rate change. Study three examined social strategy use and salivary cortisol changes in response to a reward allocation task. Overall findings suggest that a combination of prosocial and coercive behaviors is seen in individuals that are perceived as socially dominant, especially in established hierarchies. Subordinates had a greater physiological response to the reward allocation task, but sex differences impacted these results. The current study provides a better understanding of physiological and behavioral profiles of socially prominent adolescents, and how this may differ by sex.

Document Type





social dominance, stress, cortisol, social strategies, reward allocation task

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Journal Title

Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology