AbstractHierarchies are a ubiquitous form of human social organization. We hypothesized that 1 reason for the prevalence of hierarchies is that they offer structure and therefore satisfy the core motivational needs for order and control relative to less structured forms of social organization. This hypothesis is rooted in compensatory control theory, which posits that (a) individuals have a basic need to perceive the world as orderly and structured, and (b) personal and external sources of control are capable of satisfying this need because both serve the comforting belief that the world operates in an orderly fashion. Our first 2 studies confirmed that hierarchies were perceived as more structured and orderly relative to egalitarian arrangements (Study 1) and that working in a hierarchical workplace promotes a feeling of self-efficacy (Study 2). We threatened participants' sense of personal control and measured perceptions of and preferences for hierarchy in 5 subsequent experiments. Participants who lacked control perceived more hierarchy occurring in ambiguous social situations (Study 3) and preferred hierarchy more strongly in workplace contexts (Studies 4–5). We also provide evidence that hierarchies are indeed appealing because of their structure: Preference for hierarchy was higher among individuals high in Personal Need for Structure and a control threat increased preference for hierarchy even among participants low in Personal Need for Structure (Study 5). Framing a hierarchy as unstructured reversed the effect of control threat on hierarchy (Study 6). Finally, hierarchy-enhancing jobs were more appealing after control threat, even when they were low in power and status (Study 7).
Galinsky, Adam, Justin P. Friesen, Aaron C. Kay, and Richard P. Eibach. "Seeking Structure in Social Organization: Compensatory Control and the Psychological Advantages of Hierarchy." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 106, no. 4 (2014): 590-609.