The Psychology of Prestige: Why We Play the Social Status Game


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Jul 26, 2023

4 min read


The Psychology of Prestige: Why We Play the Social Status Game

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In today's society, the pursuit of social status and prestige is deeply ingrained in our behavior and way of thinking. But have you ever wondered why we play this social status game? In this article, we will explore the psychology behind our desire for prestige and how it has evolved from our ancestors to the modern world. We will also delve into the impact of status anxiety on our decision-making and self-worth. Finally, we will provide actionable advice on how to navigate the complexities of the status game and find true fulfillment.

Survival Advantage of Social Status:

Our ancestors recognized the survival advantage of being popular within their social groups. Higher social status meant greater group protection and longevity, increasing the likelihood of reproduction. This primal instinct to seek social status has been deeply ingrained in our DNA and continues to influence our behavior and thoughts today.

Protection of Prestige:

Dr. Sabina Siebert from the University of Glasgow conducted a study on barristers and discovered that they protect their prestige by utilizing status symbols such as professional dress, ceremonies, and rituals. These actions allow elite professionals to maintain their superior status. This finding reinforces the idea that status holds significant value in society and individuals go to great lengths to preserve it.

Social Media and Status Capital:

Eugene Wei, a professional with extensive experience in media, technology, and consumer internet companies, argues that social media is built on the concept of accumulating social capital. In today's digital age, social media platforms offer an efficient way to amass social capital, further fueling our desire for prestige and validation from others. However, this constant pursuit of social validation can lead to anxiety and self-defeating decisions.

Status Anxiety and Decision-Making:

In his book "Status Anxiety," philosopher Alain de Botton delves into the anxiety we experience regarding others' opinions of us and our fear of being judged as successful or failures. This anxiety can lead us to make decisions that are at odds with our values, lower our self-worth, or hinder personal growth and self-discovery. It is essential to reflect on whether our goals and motivations are aligned with our values or if we are merely chasing prestige due to societal pressure.

Navigating the Status Game:

To navigate the complexities of the status game and find true fulfillment, it is crucial to take a step back and consider our motivations. Here are three actionable pieces of advice:

  • 1. Align Goals with Values: Take the time to reflect on whether your goals and motivations are truly aligned with your values. Are you pursuing prestige for the right reasons, or are you being coerced by societal pressure? By aligning your goals with your values, you will ensure that your pursuit of status is authentic and meaningful.
  • 2. Surround Yourself with Like-Minded Individuals: Seek out friends both online and in real life who are not solely focused on playing the status game. By surrounding yourself with individuals who prioritize personal growth and self-discovery over social validation, you can avoid feelings of inadequacy and the desire to constantly keep up with others.
  • 3. Learn from Inspirational Figures: Reserve time to read memoirs and biographies of individuals who have achieved their dreams not by striving for wealth or status, but by reflecting on what is truly important to them and following their own path. Their stories can provide valuable insights and inspiration for finding fulfillment outside of the status game.


The psychology behind our pursuit of social status and prestige is deeply rooted in our evolutionary history. However, it is crucial to navigate the status game with intention and self-awareness. By aligning our goals with our values, surrounding ourselves with like-minded individuals, and seeking inspiration from those who have found fulfillment outside of societal expectations, we can break free from the anxiety and self-defeating decisions that often accompany the pursuit of prestige. Remember, true fulfillment lies in following your own path and prioritizing personal growth over social validation.

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