The mirage at the top: why forecasters seek status in the wrong place

Schweinsberg, Martin (2013) The mirage at the top: why forecasters seek status in the wrong place. Doctoral thesis, University of London: London Business School. OPEN ACCESS


People who attain high status positions often remark how little their rise through the ranks affects their happiness. Despite this insight from high status individuals, people generally envy high status others, forecasting that they would be happier if they had similarly high status. Thus, although the desire for status motivates much of human behaviour, it is unclear whether people accurately forecast their future happiness at achieving high status positions. In this dissertation I examine whether and why people overestimate their happiness after gaining high status. I suggest, and provide evidence for the hypothesis, that people overestimate how happy they will be after achieving high status because they mispredict who they will compare themselves with. A series of field (Study 1) and experimental studies (Studies 2 and 3) demonstrate that forecasters overestimate their happiness at high status positions because they underestimate the number of threatening upward comparisons and overestimate the number of self-enhancing downward comparisons they will make. This forecasting error is caused by forecasters' underestimation of upward comparisons and not by their overestimation of downward comparisons (Study 4). I also explore this phenomenon in the domain of status loss (Study 5). The current research contributes to numerous literatures. First, I show that forecasting errors exist in and impact individuals' status striving. Second, this dissertation introduces a temporal dimension to the study of social comparisons: people are not only affected by the social comparisons of the present, but are also influenced and misguided by the social comparisons of the future. Third, this work contributes to the affective forecasting literature by examining social relationships as a source of affective forecasting errors. This research has important practical implications since most decisions are motivated by expected emotional rewards. Overestimating happiness from high status can cause people to seek status at the expense of activities that demonstrably increase happiness, such as investments in social relationships. Findings from this dissertation can therefore help people make better choices by providing a more accurate understanding of future happiness from high status positions.

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Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subject Areas: Organisational Behaviour
Date Deposited: 10 Feb 2022 16:22
Date of first compliant deposit: 10 Feb 2022
Subjects: Social psychology
Last Modified: 10 Sep 2023 01:50

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