Status Differences in the Cognitive Activation of Social Networks
We develop a dynamic cognitive model of network activation and show that people at different status levels spontaneously activate, or call to mind, different subsections of their networks when faced with job threat. Using a
multimethod approach (General Social Survey data and a laboratory experiment), we ﬁnd that, under conditions of job
threat, people with low status exhibit a winnowing response (i.e., activating smaller and tighter subsections of their networks), whereas people with high status exhibit a widening response (i.e., activating larger and less constrained subsections
of their networks). We integrate traditional network theories with cognitive psychology, suggesting that cognitively activating social networks is a precondition to mobilizing them. One implication is that narrowing the network in response to
threat might reduce low-status group members’ access to new information, harming their chances of ﬁnding subsequent
employment and exacerbating social inequality.
Smith, E., Tanya Menon and Leigh Thompson. 2012. Status Differences in the Cognitive Activation of Social Networks. Organization Science. 23(1): 67-82.