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Lower-Status Participation and Influence:Task Structure Matters

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  • This article is dedicated to the memory of Michele G. Alexander. This research was supported by a grant from the Sociology Program of the National Science Foundation (SES 0196315) awarded to Alexander W. Chizhik, Michele G. Alexander, and Estella W. Chizhik. We thank Maribel Luna and Toyoka Murakami for their assistance in data analyses and anonymous reviewers for thoughtful suggestions that polished the article.

*Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Alexander W. Chizhik, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Dr., San Diego, CA 92182-1153 [e-mail: achizhik@mail.sdsu.edu].

Abstract

Status hierarchies readily form in groups and, once established, limit lower-status group members’ opportunities for contributing to and influencing group decisions. Recent findings, however, suggest that the type of task on which a group works may allow lower-status individuals to break through power and prestige orders in a cooperative way while conflicting with ideas of their higher-status group members. In this article, we review a research program that investigates how task structure relates to status and influence in small groups. In one experiment, using groups of three female students as participants, we found that open-structured tasks allow lower-status group members to participate, receive positive evaluations, and improve their status more than closed-structured tasks. In a second experiment, using groups of two female students and a female experimenter as participants, we found that open-structured tasks and lower-status confederates foster more divergent thinking and indirect influence than closed-structured tasks and higher-status sources. Our findings contribute to the understanding of how immediate problem-solving environments contribute to status change and influence in small groups.

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