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Noah S. Askin and Matthew S. Bothner

Individual outcomes in tournaments for status result not only from participants’ own qualities and behaviors, but also from those of their most proximate peers. In this article, we take an alter-centric view of status dynamics, examining the effect of peers’ perceived quality on future changes in a focal organization’s status. Utilizing the yearly tournaments created by U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of national colleges and universities, two competing predictions are investigated. The first is that peer’ advances in perceived quality impair the future status of a focal school, reflecting inter-school competition for finite resources and rewards. The second is that peers’ improvements incite a focal school to make cosmetic or material adjustments, leading to an increase in its status. Peers are defined in two ways: by proximity in the prior iteration of the tournament and by network-based structural equivalence. Using fixed effects models predicting future changes in annual USN ranks, we observe opposing forces at work, depending on the type of peer exerting influence. When peers identified by prior rank proximity improve in perceived quality, they exert status-eroding effects on a focal school. Conversely, when structurally equivalent peers in the college-applicant market show improvement, the focal school subsequently increases in status. We examine the mechanisms responsible for this divergence by focusing on the bases of each type of peer-affiliation, presenting interaction effects that highlight the contextual conditions that shape the influence of peers on status change. Future directions for research on peer effects and status are discussed.

Matthew S. Bothner, Young-Kyu Kim, and Edward Bishop Smith

Two competing predictions about the effect of status on performance appear in the organizational theory and sociological literatures. On one hand, various researchers have asserted that status improves performance. This line of work emphasizes tangible and intangible resources that accrue to occupants of high-status positions and therefore pictures status as an asset. On the other hand, a second stream of research argues that status instead diminishes performance. This alternative line of work emphasizes complacency and distraction as deleterious processes that plague occupants of high-status positions and thus portrays status as a liability. Which of these two perspectives best characterizes the actual performance of individuals in a competitive setting? And are they in any way reconcilable? In this paper, we summarize these two perspectives and test them in two empirical settings: the Professional Golf Association (PGA) and the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR). Using panel data on the PGA Tour, we model golfers’ strokes from par in each competition as a function of their status in the sport. Using similar data on NASCAR’s Winston Cup Series, we model drivers’ speed in the qualifying round as a function of their status in the sport. We find curvilinear effects of status in both contexts. Performance improves with status until a very high level of status is reached, after which performance wanes. This result not only concurs with the view that status brings tangible and intangible resources but also provides empirical support for the contention that status fosters dispositions and behaviors that ultimately erode performance.

Organization Science, 23 (2012): 416-433

Matthew S. Bothner, Jeong-han Kang, and Toby E. Stuart

This article uses National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) races to examine how competitive crowding affects the risk-taking conduct of actors in a tournament. We develop three claims: (1) crowding from below, which measures the number of competitors capable of surpassing a given actor in a tournament-based contest, predisposes that actor to take risks; (2) as a determinant of risky conduct, crowding from below has a stronger influence than crowding from above, which captures the opportunity to advance in rank; and (3) the effect of crowding from below is strongest after the rank ordering of the actors in a tournament becomes relatively stable, which focuses contestants’ attention on proximately ranked competitors. Using panel data on NASCAR’s Winston Cup Series from 1990 through 2003, we model the probability that a driver crashes his car in a race. Findings show that drivers crash their vehicles with greater frequency when their positions are increasingly at risk of displacement by their nearby, lower-ranked counterparts; the effect of crowding from below exceeds that of crowding from above; and the effect of crowding by lower-ranked contestants is greatest when there is relatively little race-to-race change in the rank ordering of drivers.

Administrative Science Quarterly, 52 (2007): 208-247

Matthew S. Bothner, Toby E. Stuart, and Harrison C. White

This article examines the effects of status differentiation on the cohesion of a social structure. Using a formal model, we simulate the fates of a hypothetical cohort of newly hired employees, who are equals in the eyes of their boss and in the nascent stages of sorting into a status hierarchy. We cast these employees in a process in which they exert effort, receive public approval from the boss in exchange, and thus come to fill different places in a status order. We then consider the circumstances under which these workers cohere as a group and when, by contrast, differentiation makes cohesion among them unlikely. Our results show that the extent of the boss’s autonomy in relationship to employees accounts for this difference in outcomes. Under an autonomous boss, as differentiation transpires, status-based social forces break the group of workers apart. Conversely, when the boss occupies a compromised position, group-level cohesion coexists with differentiation. Our main contribution is the intuition that the cohesion-related consequences of status differentiation can substantially depend on the tie between contestants and their external audience. We conclude by developing conjectures for empirical research consistent with our main findings.

Journal of Mathematical Sociology, 28 (2004): 261-295