Status Differences in the Cognitive Activation of Social Networks, Organization Science
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 multi method 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.