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.

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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