Thursday, 3 November 2011

Susan Fiske: Nerdy but nice

I was a high-school nerd. Worse yet, a girl nerd. I did learn quickly to hide my A grades and not talk too much in class. At the high-school reunion, my classmates thought it was obvious I would become a professor (they could have saved me much agony, had they only told me sooner!). As a student at Harvard, I learned to tell strangers that I went to school “outside Boston.” Then I had a respite from having to hide my academic self, as my first jobs did not excite much public envy. Moving to Princeton changed all that (now I work “outside New York”), so maybe it’s not surprising that I came to work on how status divides us. Now, our lab’s research brings home the idea that status/competence is only one of two universal social dimensions, but that interdependence/warmth is the other. It’s OK to be respected or even enviable for status (in an aspirational, you-can-do-it-too way), if you also communicate that you also appreciate the cooperative side of the relationship. If I am on your side, and we are in this together, then my success is good for our tribe.

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Susan T. Fiske is Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology at Princeton and author of Envy Up, Scorn Down: How Status Divides Us (2011).

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