Dominance and Social Attention-Holding Theory

Dominance and Social Attention-Holding Theory (DSAH) is a social psychology theory that proposes that dominant individuals are more likely to capture and maintain the focus of others in social settings. Daniel J. Canary and Michael J. Cody created the hypothesis in 1994. Dominant people are perceived to be more capable and assured, which can be attractive to others.

This theory has been used to explain various social phenomena, such as people's proclivity to submit to authoritative figures, how people respond to attractive leaders, and the dynamics of social structures in groups. According to this theory, those with greater dominance will be more likely to be seen and heard, and their messages will be more likely to be taken seriously and acted upon.

What is Dominance and Social Attention-Holding Theory?

Although Cummins highlights the information-processing processes that may result from the recurring adaptive issues given by dominance hierarchies, another evolutionary psychologist's hypothesis emphasizes the emotional components of dominance. Gilbert's idea is partly based on resource-holding potential (RHP), developed via research on nonhuman animals. RHP refers to an assessment that animals make of themselves concerning other creatures regarding relative strengths and weaknesses. Contest losers and people who feel inferior prior to contests have low RHP. Contest winners and those who believe they will win contests do better in RHP. Dominance hierarchies emerge due to the actions resulting from these relative judgments.

During RHP examinations, three sorts of conduct emerge. Initially, the animal may attack the other, particularly if it believes it is better in RHP. Second, the animal may escape, particularly if it believes it is inferior in Status. Finally, the animal may surrender, handing up essential resources to others with greater RHP. In this perspective, dominance is a description of the relationship between two or more persons rather than an individual trait per se. Gilbert (1990) claims humans have appropriated RHP for another mode: social attention-holding potential (SAHP). SAHP refers to the amount and quality of attention others pay to a specific individual.

According to this viewpoint, people compete with one another for the attention and worth of others in the group. When group members lavish an individual with much high-quality attention, that individual grows in status. Those who are ignored are demoted to a lower social position. According to this hypothesis, disparities in rank are caused by differences in attention provided by others rather than differences in threat or coercion. Gilbert proposes that humans give attention to those who execute a role that the bestowers esteem. For example, a doctor who assists someone ill receives excellent care from the sick person. In this perspective, people compete to bestow advantages on others to grow in SAHP. People who fail to provide benefits are ostracised and denied attention and resources.

Gilbert theory's most innovative theoretical contribution stems from theories concerning the function of mood or emotion due to rank changes. Increasing rank has two theorized consequences: elation and an increase in assisting. Winning competitive confrontations produces an enhanced mood, sometimes known as "winner's euphoria." People who see the expressions of victors and losers following a sports encounter may immediately discern differences in elation. A favorable attitude enhances the possibility of seeking out future competitions and formally evaluating one's chances of winning. The second and related shift is a greater willingness to assist. Psychologists have shown that those who gain social standing are more inclined to be pleasant and helpful.

Surprisingly, some people fear asking for assistance from others because they believe it would lower their perceived status. Perhaps this is why males sometimes hesitate to ask for directions—an unconscious fear of losing their position. Additionally, there is evidence that higher-status people aid more than lower-status people in hospital emergency rooms. To summarise, rank increases appear to be associated with mood and helpful conduct increases.

According to SAHP theory, falling in status has diverse implications for mood and emotion, including the beginnings of social anxiety, embarrassment, wrath, jealousy, and despair. The bigger the possible repercussions for status, the greater the social anxiety in public speaking. Social anxiety is thought to inspire efforts to prevent status loss.

Examples the Theory

Here are some examples of Dominance and Social Attention-Holding (DSAH) theory examples −

Among Primates

Influential people frequently receive the most social focus in many primate species, such as grooming and affiliated behaviors. This social focus can help them maintain their dominant position and gain access to resources like food and partners.

In Human Social Groups

According to research, individuals viewed as more potent within a group often receive more social focus and impact. In one study of college student groups, for example, researchers discovered that students evaluated as more dominant by their peers got more focus during group discussions and were more likely to be chosen as the group leader.

On Social Media

Because social media platforms enable people to compete for social recognition on a global scale, they provide a unique setting for investigating the DSAH theory. According to research, individuals with more social media followers, likes, and remarks are often regarded as more famous and influential, which can reinforce their dominant position within online social networks.

In Romantic Relationships

The DSAH theory can also be applied to romantic relationships, as people who are considered to be more dominant within a relationship may receive more attention, care, and support from their companion. This can create a self-perpetuating loop in which the dominant spouse receives more attention and support while the less dominant partner becomes more reliant on them.

Benefits of Dominance and Social Attention-Holding Theory

The Dominance and Social Attention-Holding (DSAH) theory is mainly an academic paradigm for comprehending social dynamics. However, it can also have real-world applications for people's daily lives. The DSAH theory can assist individuals in the following ways −

Understanding Social Hierarchies

The DSAH theory can assist people in understanding the variables that add to social dominance and position within various organizations, whether in a social network, a workplace, or a community association. Individuals can better handle social circumstances and create tactics for establishing and keeping their social rank by understanding the intricacies of social groups. For example, understanding the power dynamics can help individuals determine whom to approach for support or mentorship in a work environment.

Improving Social Skills

The DSAH theory can also provide insights into the most effective social skills and actions for getting social focus and impact. Individuals can raise their social standing and affect others by honing these skills. For example, people can improve their social skills by attending social events, networking, and practicing active listening.

Increasing Leadership Effectiveness

The DSAH theory can assist those in leadership positions in identifying the most effective behaviors and tactics for obtaining and keeping leadership status within a group or organization. Leaders can create tactics for inspiring and motivating others by knowing social focus and control dynamics. For example, managers can improve their leadership skills by actively listening to their team, providing clear instructions, and promoting teamwork.

Improving Interpersonal Relationships

The DSAH theory can also shed light on the complicated nature of love and friendship interactions. Individuals can create strategies for keeping healthy and balanced relationships with others by knowing the variables that lead to social attention and dominance within these relationships.

Critical Analysis of Dominance and Social Attention-Holding Theory

According to the Dominance and Social Attention-Holding Theory (DSAH), people with high social standing in a community are more likely to receive social focus, which supports their dominant status. While there is some empirical evidence for this theory, it has been challenged for several reasons.

Inadequate General Applicability

According to the DSAH theory, social attention and control are universal behaviors across all communities and countries. However, the study indicates that societal values, standards, and social structures can all significantly influence how people view and react to social standing.

Excessive Focus on Societal Attention

The DSAH theory emphasizes the role of social focus in reinforcing the dominant position while ignoring other variables that can add to social dominance, such as physical power, intelligence, and resource management.

Ignoring Individual Differences

According to the DSAH theory, all group members have equitable access to social focus, and those who receive the most attention are the most dominant. However, individual differences in social skills, personality traits, and other variables that can influence an individual's ability to draw and retain social focus are ignored.

Lack of Causal Evidence

While the DSAH theory suggests a causal connection between social focus and control, the data is mainly correlational, making establishing a clear causal link challenging.

Limited Applicability

Because the DSAH theory concentrates mainly on the function of social attention and control within small-scale groups, it may not be relevant to more prominent communities or organizations.

Applications of Dominance and Social Attention-Holding Theory

The Dominance and Social Attention-Holding (DSAH) hypothesis have a variety of possible applications, including −

Social Psychology

The DSAH theory significantly affects our knowledge of social influence and group dynamics in social psychology. Researchers can better understand how power and prestige are established and kept within social groups by finding the variables contributing to social control and attention-holding.

Organizational Behaviour

The DSAH theory can also analyze leadership and organizational behavior. Organizations can recognize and create successful leaders by understanding how social attention and dominance add to leadership efficacy.

Marketing and Advertising

The DSAH hypothesis has marketing and advertising consequences. Marketers can design campaigns that appeal to dominant people and increase the probability of their message being spread and amplified within social networks by understanding the factors that impact social attention and dominance.

Animal Behaviour

The DSAH theory has been widely used in animal behavior research, especially in studying monkey social dynamics. Researchers can gain insights into the development of social behavior and systems by understanding how authority and social focus affect behavior in other species.


In conclusion, the Dominance and Social Attention-Holding (DSAH) theory provide valuable insights into how social attention and dominance influence behavior and power dynamics in various contexts, from primates to human social groups. This theory has important implications for understanding social influence, leadership, and communication and can help individuals navigate social interactions and improve their social skills.

Updated on: 11-Apr-2023


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