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Journal Articles Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology Year : 2022

Rank reversal aversion and fairness in hierarchies


Objectives: Despite the aversion to inequality in humans, social hierarchies are a fundamental feature of their social life. Several mechanisms help explain the prevalence of hierarchies over egalitarianism. Recent work has suggested that while people tend to reduce resource inequalities when given the opportunity, they are reluctant to do so when it results in a reversal of social ranks (Xie et al., 2017). In this study, we explore how the way in which hierarchies are established influences this mechanism. We propose that aversion to rank reversal depends on whether rank asymmetry is fair or unfair. Methods: In an online study, participants read 12 vignettes depicting six hypothetical hierarchies that varied in fairness. In each vignette, one individual was endowed with more resources than another individual, and participants could reduce that inequality by transferring resources from the higher-ranked individual to the lower-ranked one. In half of the vignettes, reducing the inequality led to a reversal of ranks, while in the other half it did not. Results: We observed that participants were more likely to reverse ranks and reduce inequality when the hierarchy was perceived as unfair. Conclusion: Overall, our results suggest that considerations of fairness guide participants’ in their decision to reverse ranks


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Dates and versions

hal-03842224 , version 1 (07-11-2022)



Alexandre Foncelle, Elodie Barat, Jean-Claude Dreher, Jean-Baptiste van Der Henst. Rank reversal aversion and fairness in hierarchies. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, 2022, 8 (4), pp.520-537. ⟨10.1007/s40750-022-00206-7⟩. ⟨hal-03842224⟩
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