Social Status and Social Learning

Alexei Zakharov

Alexei Zakharov (Higher School of Economics, Moscow) & Oxana Bondarenko (Higher School of Economics, Moscow)

We studied the effect of social status on social learning in an experimental game where individuals in a dyad made repeated attempts to guess the underlying state of the world. Several sets of survey questions were deployed to control for socioeconomic status, the subjective perception of social status, and leadership traits, as well as quality and quantity of individual’s social interactions. Risk aversion and cognitive reflection were measured using incentivized tasks. We also induced social status in each pair of subjects using a dictator game. We found that individuals with high subjective social status rely less on observed choices of other subjects and put more weight on private information. Subjects who were less risk-averse, and show more leadership traits, were also less likely to learn from the actions of others. Some of the effects were gender- specific. Our finding that social learning is stronger in low-status individuals can imply a higher likelihood of information cascades in hierarchical networks.