Warmth-Competence Tradeoffs in Impression Management across Race and Social-Class Divides

Jillian K. Swencionis, Cydney H. Dupree, Susan T. Fiske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


The Great Recession widened social-class divides, so social interactions across gaps in workplace status and in race generally may be more salient and more fraught. Different statuses and races both carry stereotypes that targets know (meta-perceptions, how they expect to be viewed by the outgroup). In both cross-status and cross-race interactions, targets may aim to manage the impressions they create. Reviewing literature and our own recent work invokes (a) the role of the Stereotype Content Model's two dimensions of social perception, namely warmth and competence; (b) the compensation effect, a tendency to tradeoff between them, especially downplaying one to convey the other; and (c) diverging warmth and competence concerns of people with lower and higher status and racial-group positions. Higher-status people and Whites, both stereotyped as competent but cold, seek to warm up their image. Lower-status people and Blacks, both stereotyped as warm but incompetent, seek respect for their competence. Overviews of two previously separate research programs and the background literature converge on shared findings that higher-status people, comparing down, display a competence downshift, consistent with communicating apparent warmth. Meanwhile, lower-status people, comparing up, often display less warmth, to communicate competence. Previous research and our diverse samples—online workplace scenarios, online cross-race interactions, and presidential candidates’ speeches—suggest a novel, robust interpersonal mechanism that perpetuates race, status, and social-class divides.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-191
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Social Issues
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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