Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Doctor of Philosophy




Benson, Alex J.


Social hierarchies are fundamental to human societies, shaping group dynamics and outcomes. Ongoing debates attempt to understand their functional and dysfunctional consequences. While the conflict account of hierarchy emphasizes the potentially detrimental conflict-inducing effects of hierarchies, the functionalist account proposes that hierarchies create contexts conducive to coordination. This study investigates if team-level dominance and prestige processes might account for these diverging consequences of hierarchy with dominance fueling conflict-prone environments and prestige nurturing coordination processes. Additionally, it examines whether the inherently competitive nature of team-level dominance yields more favorable outcomes in highly competitive, zero-sum, contexts.

Across two studies, I investigated the nature and consequences of dominance and prestige processes on team functioning employing novel methodologies and conceptualizations to shed light on their mechanisms. Crucially, this research investigates dominance and prestige processes at the team-level, avoiding the limitations of individual-level perspectives. The research goes beyond mean-level investigations by also considering the influence of differentiation within teams in dominance and prestige alongside fluctuations in team-level dominance and prestige over time.

Study 1 investigated the dynamics of team dominance and prestige within work teams by utilizing three years of longitudinal data situated within an ecologically valid context. Results demonstrated that group dominance positively related to conflict measures, highlighting its detrimental influences. Conversely, prestige was positively related to beneficial team dynamics including team potency and coordination. Furthermore, dominance and prestige differentiation had both positive and negative influences.

Study 2 explored these relationships in a more controlled laboratory setting using distinct methodologies, types of participants, and team contexts. Additionally, I investigated if zero-sum contexts moderated the relationships dominance had with team functioning variables. The results from Study 2 suggested that dominance was the primary driver of team conflict, whereas prestige was the primary driver of team potency. However, prestige’s beneficial influence on coordination and conflict measures only manifested in the more competitive context. This suggests that something in more competitive environments might activate the beneficial influence of prestige.

These findings provide insights into the nature and interplay between dominance, prestige, and team functioning. This research validates the group-centered approach and goes beyond solely relying on mean-level conceptualizations.

Summary for Lay Audience

Social hierarchies are an integral part of human societies, influencing how groups work together and achieve results. Ongoing debates about hierarchies aim to uncover their positive and negative effects within teams. This study explores these debates and focuses on two different aspects of hierarchies within teams: dominance and prestige. The conflict account of hierarchy suggests that being in teams wherein some members have more influence than others can lead to conflicts, while the functionalist account proposes that such hierarchies can help teams better coordinate. The present research investigated whether dominance and prestige play distinct roles in creating these effects. These studies used team-level metrics and used novel ways to measure and analyze the data. Considering teams’ average levels, the spread, and fluctuations over time, this study sought to understand how dominance and prestige affects team functioning.

In Study 1, I collected data from teams over three years to see how dominance and prestige impacted their team functioning and found that dominance in teams led to more conflicts, supporting the idea that hierarchies can create conflict in certain contexts. On the other hand, teams with higher prestige tended to report more coordination and confidence in their team, showcasing the positive side of hierarchies.

Study 2 took a closer look at these issues by creating controlled team scenarios in a laboratory to investigate if dominance and prestige had differing influences in more or less competitive situations. They found that dominance often led to conflicts, while prestige boosted team confidence and performance. Interestingly, the beneficial effects that prestige had on conflicts and coordination were most noticeable in highly competitive settings.

The findings from these two studies tell us that how teams operate can greatly depend on the balance of dominance and prestige within the team. Dominance can create conflicts, while prestige can improve teamwork, but these effects might be influenced by the level of competition a team faces. By exploring both dominance, prestige, and competitive contexts, these studies highlight the complex world of team hierarchies.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.