To, C., Yan, T., & Sherf, E. Victorious and Hierarchical: Past Performance as a Determinant of Team Hierarchical Differentiation (In Press at Organization Science). doi:10.1287/orsc.2021.1528

[hierarchy, competition]

Hierarchies emerge as collectives attempt to organize themselves toward successful performance. Consequently, research has focused on how team hierarchies affect performance. We extend existing models of the hierarchy-performance relationship by adopting an alternative: Performance is not only an output of hierarchy but also a critical input, as teams’ hierarchical differentiation may vary based on whether they are succeeding. Integrating research on exploitation and exploration with work on group attributions, we argue that teams engage in exploitation by committing to what they attribute as the cause of their performance success. Specifically, collectives tend to attribute their success to individuals who wielded greater influence within the team; these individuals are consequently granted relatively higher levels of influence, leading to a higher degree of hierarchy. We additionally suggest that the tendency to attribute, and therefore grant more influence, to members believed to be the cause of success is stronger for teams previously higher (vs. lower) in hierarchy, as a higher degree of hierarchical differentiation provides clarity as to which members had a greater impact on the team outcome. We test our hypotheses experimentally with teams engaging in an online judgement task and observationally with teams from the National Basketball Association. Our work makes two primary contributions: (a) altering existing hierarchy-performance models by highlighting performance as both an input and output to hierarchy and (b) extending research on the dynamics of hierarchy beyond individual rank changes toward examining what factors increase or decrease hierarchical differentiation of the team as a whole.

Doyle, S.P., Pettit, N.C., Kim, S., To, C., & Lount, R.B. Surging underdogs and slumping favorites: How recent streaks and future expectations drive competitive transgressions (In Press at Academy of Management Journal). doi:10.5465/amj.2019.1008


Any single competition is rarely a “one-off” event, and instead is often part of a larger sequence of related competitions. Thus, we contend that in order to better understand people’s competitive experience we must take a more holistic view, where peoples’ experience and behavior in the present is a function of their past and expected future outcomes. This research expands the temporal lens of competition by examining how past outcomes (i.e., winning vs. losing streak) and future expectations (i.e., underdog vs. favorite standing) collectively influence an actor’s cognitive and affective reactions to a competition, with implications for their willingness to transgress. Studies 1 (Fantasy Football managers) and 2 (archival data from the English Premiere League) show that streaks and underdog vs. favorite standing interact to predict competitive transgressions; with winning steaks increasing transgressions for underdogs, and losing streaks increasing transgressions for favorites. Studies 3 (public defenders) and 4 (Democrats and Republicans) then provide experimental evidence of the cognitive and affective pathways through which these transgressions occur. Theoretical implications for the competition literature, as well as managerial implications, are discussed.

To, C., Kilduff, G.J., & Rosikiewicz, B (2020). When interpersonal competition helps and when it harms: An integration via challenge and threat. Academy of Management Annals, 14(2), 908-934. doi:annals.2016.0145


Interpersonal competition is ubiquitous in organizations and is studied by scholars across a variety of disciplines. However, these literatures have developed in parallel with little integration, stunting scholarly progress and leaving researchers and practitioners uncertain as to whether competition within organizations is beneficial versus harmful. This review attempts to resolve these issues. First, we define interpersonal competition as existing when an individual desires, and directs behavior towards, attaining relative superiority on a particular dimension. Second, we review the empirical research on the consequences of interpersonal competition, with a focus on the factors that help determine when interpersonal competition is helpful versus harmful for organizations, and importantly, highlight the common mechanisms that appear to underlie these many factors. This prior work suggests when competition is appraised as a challenge, its downsides are mitigated and its benefits are most evident. Conversely, when competition is appraised as a threat, its downsides become most evident. We hope this review provides an entry point for scholars interested in interpersonal competition, and a more parsimonious account of its consequences.

To, C., Leslie, L., Torelli, C., & Stoner, J (2020). Culture and social hierarchy: Collectivism as a driver of the relationship between power and status. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 157, 159-176. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2019.12.006


Power and status are distinct bases of social hierarchy with unique effects. Yet evidence suggests wide variation in whether perceptions of status and power are highly correlated versus relatively distinct. We use a cross-cultural lens to explain this variation and suggest cultural orientation shapes the effect of power on perceived status and vice versa. Six studies using various methodologies and samples demonstrate that: (1) individuals high (versus low) on vertical collectivism are more likely to perceive high power targets as also high in status; (2) individuals high (versus low) on horizontal collectivism are more likely to perceive high status targets as also high in power; and (3) cultural differences in the power-status relationship qualify prior conclusions regarding established effects of power and status on one downstream consequence—namely, fairness enacted towards others. Implications for theory, practice, and future research are discussed.

Torelli, C.J., Leslie, L., To, C., & Kim, S. (2020). Power and status across cultures. Current Opinion in Psychology, 33, 12-17. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2019.05.005


This article synthesizes recent psychological research at the intersection of power, status, and culture. Our review shows that culture affects how status and power are conceptualized, who attains them, and what their consequences are. In individualistic cultures (and particularly vertical ones that emphasize hierarchical arrangements), power is conceptualized in personalized terms (i.e. focus on self-benefits), competence drives status attainment, norm violations increase power, and individuals strive primarily for power, approve of powerholders that behave equitably, and feel happy when they have personal power. In contrast, in collectivistic cultures (and particularly horizontal ones that promote egalitarianism), power is conceptualized in socialized terms (i.e. focus on benefitting others), warmth and competence drive status attainment, norm adherence increases power, and individuals strive primarily for status, approve of powerholders that behave compassionately, and feel happy when they have socialized power. We discuss what remains unknown as a mechanism for guiding future work.

Jachimowicz, J., To, C., Agasi, S., Côté, S., & Galinsky, A.D. (2019). The gravitational pull of passion: Why and when people admire and support individuals who express passion. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 153, 41-62. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2019.06.002


Prior research attributes the positive effects of passion on professional success to intrapersonal characteristics. We propose that interpersonal processes are also critical because observers confer status on and support those who express passion. These interpersonal benefits of expressing passion are, however, contingent on several factors related to the expresser, perceiver, and context. Six studies, including entrepreneurial pitches from Dragons’ Den and two pre-registered experiments, establish three key findings. First, observers conferred status onto and increased their support for individuals who express passion; importantly, expressing passion affected how admired—but not how accepted—someone was. Second, these effects were weaker when passion was expressed in an inappropriate manner/context, and when observers disagreed with the target of expresser’s passion. Third, in competitive contexts, expressing passion became threatening and decreased the support individuals received from others. These results demonstrate that passion’s effects travel, in part, through the gravitational pull exerted by expressing passion.

To, C., Kilduff, G.J., Ordõnez, L., & Schweitzer, M. (2018). Going for it on fourth down: Rivalry increases risk-taking, physiological arousal, and promotion focus. Academy of Management Journal, 61(4), 1281-1306. doi:10.5465/amj.2016.0850


Risk taking is fundamental to organizational decision making. Extending prior work that has identified individual and situational antecedents of risk taking, we explore a significant relational antecedent: rivalry. In both a field setting and a laboratory experiment, we explore how a competitor’s identity and relationship with the decision maker influences risk taking. We analyze play-by-play archival data from the National Football League and find that interactions with rival (versus nonrival) partners increases risky behavior. In a laboratory experiment involving face-to-face competition, we demonstrate that rivalry increases risk taking via two pathways: increased promotion focus and physiological arousal. These findings highlight the importance of incorporating relational characteristics to understand risk taking. Our findings also advance our understanding of when and why competition promotes risk taking, and underscore the importance of identity and relationships in the psychology and physiology of competitive decision making in organizations.

Pettit, N.C., Doyle, S.P., Lount, R.B., & To, C. (2016). Cheating to get ahead or to avoid falling behind? The effect of potential negative versus positive status change on unethical behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 137, 172-183. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2016.09.005


This research examines how being faced with a potential negative versus positive status change influences peoples’ willingness to ethically transgress to avoid or achieve these respective outcomes. Across four studies people were consistently more likely to cheat to prevent a negative status change than to realize a positive change. We argue that what accounts for these results is the enhanced value placed on retaining one’s status in the face of a potential negative change. Taken together, these findings offer a dynamic perspective to the study of status and ethics and contribute to knowledge of the situational factors that promote unethical behavior.

Work in Progress

To, C., Wiwad, D., & Kouchaki, M. Income inequality and ethical judgements. (1st round R&R, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General)


To, C., Sherf, E., & Kouchaki, M. Managers and perceptions of inequity. (1st round R&R, Academy of Management Journal)

[inequity, hierarchy]

To, C., & Kouchaki, M. Income inequality and work motivation.


To, C., & Kakkar, H. Leadership behaviors following success and failure.


To, C., & Pettit, N.C., Eggers, J. Rank change and risk-taking.

[competition, hierarchy]