Affective and Cardiovascular Effects of Experimentally-Induced Social Status

Tamar Mendelson, Rebecca C. Thurston, Laura D. Kubzansky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Objective: Observational research suggests subordinate social status is associated with negative mental and physical health outcomes. However, observational studies have limitations, including confounding of social status with other factors, limited ability to infer causality, and difficulty of obtaining detailed affective and physiologic data. This study used experimental methods to test the hypothesis that subordinate social status per se causes psychological distress and cardiovascular arousal. Design: Forty-four women were randomly assigned to an induced subordinate or dominant status condition. Social status was manipulated using a procedure derived from status construction theory. Main Outcome Measures: Affective responses were assessed via self-report. Cardiovascular responses were assessed by measures of systolic and diastolic blood pressures obtained with an automated blood pressure machine. Results: Participants in the subordinate condition perceived themselves as lower in status; the reverse was true for dominant condition participants. Compared with induced dominant status, induced subordinate status produced increased negative affect and systolic blood pressure over the course of the study. Conclusion: Findings suggest social status can be experimentally manipulated and short-term induction of subordinate status can have adverse effects on affect and stress-related physiological systems. Results have implications for understanding how socioeconomic status "gets under the skin" to influence health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)482-489
Number of pages8
JournalHealth Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • blood pressure
  • social status

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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