The Effect of Social Class on Agency and Communion: Reconciling Identity-Based and Rank-Based Perspectives

Anna Lisa Aydin*, Johannes Ullrich, Birte Siem, Kenneth D. Locke, Nurit Shnabel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How does social class affect people’s goals in social interactions? A rank-based perspective suggests actors from higher social classes (compared to lower social classes) have more agentic and less communal goals when interacting with same class or unspecified others. Focusing on targets’ social class, an identity-based perspective suggests the reverse: Actors should more strongly endorse communal (agentic) goals toward illegitimately lower class (higher class) compared to illegitimately higher class (lower class) targets, regardless of actors’ own social class. Three preregistered experiments (N = 2,023) manipulated actor’s social class and the nature of the target (illegitimately higher/lower class, same class, unspecified) and measured participants’ goals in imagined interactions using the Circumplex Scales of Intergroup Goals. The identity-based perspective received strong support: Across studies, actors expressed stronger agentic (communal) goals toward higher class (lower class) targets. The rank-based perspective received limited support, with relatively low-class (vs. relatively high-class) actors expressing stronger communal goals toward same-class targets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)735-745
Number of pages11
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2019


  • Circumplex Scales of Intergroup Goals
  • actor
  • agency
  • communion
  • social class
  • target


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