ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How Hierarchy Affects Stress Levels

Updated on January 16, 2013

What is more important?

See results

One very interesting aspect of stress perceptions has to do with hierarchies, in other words, where you are on the imagined ladder of success and how much control you pereive that you have in your life situation (job, marriage, etc.)

In essence, among animals and people who live within a social hierarcy, it appears that stress is greatly reduced among the aggressive and dominant. Where do you rank in your social circle(s)?

Our Social Standing Determines our Susceptibility

Robert Sapolsky, Neuroscientist and Professor of Biology, Neuroscience, and Neurosurgery at Stanford University confirms, through his many years of studying baboon social hierarchies, that social standing makes us more or less susceptible to disease.

A very interesting and entertaining video on the subject was developed by National Geographic, and appears here:

Hierarchy and the Immune System

As rats, monkeys, and humans experience negative stress, their body's ability to heal itself shuts down. When in 'fight or flight mode,' our body automatically directs all of its resources to that objective. While our entire cardiovascular system ramps up, our digestive system stops; while our body secretes hormones such as epinephrine, nor-epinephrine, and cortisol, all 'non-essential' bodily functions are shut down, such as our immune system, reproductive system, and more.

These physiological functions increase our susceptibility to illness and disease, seen much more frequently in the submissive members of the baboon and human groups.

Workers with a lower perception of control have higher stress levels that can lead to poor health and an increase in missed work days.
Workers with a lower perception of control have higher stress levels that can lead to poor health and an increase in missed work days. | Source

The Whitehall Study

The first phase of the Whitehall study began in 1967 and future phases continue into our day. British civil servants were studied to compare rank as correlated with stress levels and health outcomes.

The Whitehall studies conclude(d) that the subordinate group (those with little seniority) experienced the most intense cases of psychological stress and resulting poor health. Further studies noted that the results were related to how the subordinate perceived the level of control they had in their job. The lower the perceived control over the situation, the higher the incidences of stress-induced illness.

All other factors, such as access to health care, were leveled for this study.

Perceiving control and feeling that you're making a positive difference is a challenge in this type of work environment.
Perceiving control and feeling that you're making a positive difference is a challenge in this type of work environment. | Source

Perception of Control

Both direct (physiological) and indirect (behavioral) models explain why health risks are reduced when workers have a sense of greater control in the workplace. Research shows that those with a greater sense of control tend to engage in healthier behaviors and avoid health-damaging behaviors, that is, when they believe their work in particular or their work role in general make a difference. In contrast, those who feel helpless and don't see a correlation between their actions, their job role, and ultimate outcomes, these individuals are more prone to illness and disease, perhaps because they don't see the need to participate in health-promoting behaviors.

Change our Hierarchy by Changing our Values

Unfortunately, our society does not value stress relief; we admire those high-achieving, high-earning, multi-tasking people. Actually, we would be better served to admire the opposite: lives focused on stress reduction and those who understand a balanced and serene life.

The Solution to Hierarchal Anxiety

Remember this basic concept: All stressors are self-created. How we view, perceive, and evaluate a stressor determine how it will affect our health.

Society continuously flashes in our faces where we rank in the social status - chronic exposure to self-imposed stresses to accomplish more, be more, look better, own more - are linked to negative health outcomes and shorter life expectancy.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)