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Within the context of sociology, and as defined by Webster and Driskell, status generalization is "the process by which statuses of actors external to a particular interaction are imported and allowed to determine important features of that interaction." As an example, Webster and Driskell cite the tendency of white male executives to rise to leadership within a group even when their executive skills are not relevant to the group's task.
Status generalization is highly researched when looking into racism, discrimination, and the stereotyping that results from this. Brezina and Winder (2003) researched whites’ racial stereotyping of blacks and the association between blacks and lower socioeconomic statuses. They found that negative racial stereotyping is fueled by the continuing association between race and economic disadvantage, that “if blacks continue to fall behind economically, then they must not be trying hard enough”. The results of their research shows that the mere awareness that whites have about the relatively disadvantaged position blacks are in contributes to the negative stereotyping and thus contributes to negative status generalization when within groups.
The dissertation done by Monroe illustrates how hierarchies of status are created and become legitimized. The dissertation particularly focuses on the situation in where a low status person gains legitimate authority or power in higher status positions. They theory was tested using an experiment designed to have two by two groups working on cooperative tasks. One of the pair was a confederate trying to display dominant characteristics and the reactions to the dominant behaviors served as the dependent variable in the study. Results of the study show that performance evaluation had an effect on influence and status consistency.
The concept of status generalization can be applied particularly when looking at groups that are task oriented. Group members' external status (race, age, gender, or occupation) may determine their roles within the group more than their particular skills to achieve the group's goals.
Modern social psychologists have taken interest in the underpinnings of status generalization. The expression of status generalization is salient in everyday life, but motives have remained relatively ambiguous. Researchers Oldmeadow, Platow, & Foddy present an explanation, “the underlying psychological process that gives rise to (status generalization) in naturally occurring task-groups is psychological group formation, understood as self-categorization and social identification with other task-group members.” The researchers remind readers that people naturally identify with others due to characteristics such as SES, race, and gender. After identifying with others, people establish a pecking order that predicts group influence such as speaking order and command of topic.
When people are put into task groups and physical status characteristics are made salient (skin color, age, social economic status), those individuals with the best perceived characteristics are more likely to be rewarded with more power and prestige. Even when status characteristics are irrelevant to the task at hand they still have an effect the role one is given. Those who have the skills that are relevant to a task are often over looked if they are a minority and too much emphasis can be placed on someone in the group if they are of a high status outside of the group; even if the skills that they have are irrelevant to the task.
- Webster Jr, Murray; James E. Driskell Jr (April 1978). "Status Generalization: A Review and Some New Data". American Sociological Review. 43 (2): 220–236. doi:10.2307/2094700. JSTOR 2094700.
- Brezina, Timothy; Kenisha Winder (December 2003). "Economic Disadvantage, Status Generalization, and Negative Racial Stereotyping By White Americans". Social Psychology Quarterly. 66 (4): 402. doi:10.2307/1519837.
- Munroe, P. T.Creating a legitimated power and prestige order: The impact of status consistency and performance evaluations on expectations for competence and status. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences, , 3207-3207. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/619962300
- Oldmeadow, J., Platow, M. J., & Foddy, M. (2005). Task-groups as self-categories: A social identity perspective on status generalization. Current Research in Social Psychology, 10(18) Retrieved from http://www.uiowa.edu/~grpproc/crisp/crisp.10.18.html