Published works

Why elites love authentic lowbrow culture: overcoming high-status denigration with outsider art


with Ezra Zuckerman and Minjae Kim 

Going beyond the distinction-seeking explanation for why “cultural omnivorousness” (the tendency for Western elites to consume a wide range of genres) extends to lowbrow genres, we develop and test the idea that demonstrating appreciation of authentic lowbrow culture affords authenticity-insecure elites an effective way of shoring up their authenticity. This argument, which builds on recent sociological research on the “search for authenticity” (e.g., Grazian 2005), on Bourdieu’s (1993) notion of artistic “disinterestedness,” and on Hahl and Zuckerman’s (2014) theory of “high-status denigration,” is validated through experiments with American subjects in the context of “outsider” art (Fine 2004).  The first study demonstrates that preference for lowbrow culture is higher when individuals feel insecure in their authenticity—i.e., when their social category attained status in a manner whereby extrinsic motives are salient.  The second study demonstrates that audiences perceive the members of erstwhile denigrated social categories to be more authentic if they consume lowbrow culture but only if the cultural producer is perceived as authentic. We conclude by noting how this “authenticity-by-appreciation” effect might be complementary with distinction-seeking as a motivation for elite cultural omnivorousness and we draw broader implications for when and why particular forms of culture are in demand.



This paper addresses why customers at times prefer traditional practices deemed more authentic to a domain, particularly where these practices had previously been discarded as inferior. I argue that customer demand for authenticity can be triggered when extrinsic rewards (i.e., fame or money) increase in prominence in a market, causing audiences to doubt the motives of the market’s producers. I examine this dynamic in the context of Major League Baseball, where appreciation for traditional stadium features seemingly arose after the advent of free agency heightened awareness and coverage of the economic rewards in the sport. Experimental analysis validates the proposed mechanism, whereby increased fan exposure to extrinsic rewards increases concern about player inauthenticity, which increases preference for traditional stadium features. Difference in Difference analysis of attendance patterns (home-away) provides external validation for these experimental findings by showing that authenticity was more highly preferred, in the form of higher relative attendance in traditional-style ballparks, by those fans more affected by free agency. Conclusions are drawn about the role that perceptions about motives play in market perceptions of authenticity and valuation of authentic cultural objects. 



with Olenka Kacperczyk and Jason Davis

Although brokers who span structural holes have been shown to occupy a valuable position in organizations, emerging research suggests that the returns to these brokers can vary depending on whether alters can credibly threaten to disintermediate the broker and close the structural hole. Yet the factors that shape the likelihood of disintermediation have not been extensively explored.  In this paper, we argue that local network perception influences both 1) alters’ ability to disintermediate, and 2) the likelihood that individuals occupy high-performing brokerage positions in intra-organizational networks. Drawing on prior research about cognitive social structures, we argue that individuals are most likely to be in a structural hole under the condition of knowledge asymmetry—that is, when brokers know about the structural hole, but alters do not—which reduces the likelihood of disintermediation by alters and benefits to brokers. Using advice network data from a high-tech organization, we find evidence of knowledge asymmetry in existing structural holes, and moderation of this relationship by two factors also related to disintermediation: (1) broker’s reputation and (2) alter’s position in the resource flow. We also show that knowledge asymmetry is related to higher returns for brokers. The broader theoretical contribution is a better understanding of how network perceptions are related to positions across structural holes, an important structure from which power is derived in organizations and markets.



with David F. Babbel

The decision whether to buy term or permanent life insurance, or some combination of both, is among the most challenging elements of the purchasing process for many people. This study demonstrates that financial analyses which purport to show that the Buy Term and Invest the Difference (BTID) concept dominates the combination of permanent life insurance supplemented with term life are deficient in many ways and incapable of establishing this dominance. It also shows that the assumed financial discipline necessary to successfully implement the BTID approach is an unrealistic expectation for many consumers. Accordingly, it should not be claimed that one approach necessarily dominates the other for all consumers.



with Ezra Zuckerman

We develop theory and report on experiments that address the tendency for high-status actors to be deemed—even by high-status actors themselves—less considerate and more inauthentic than low-status actors.   We argue that this tendency, which potentially contradicts the fact that status is accorded on the basis of an actor’s capability and commitment, stems from two paradoxical features of typical status attainment processes: (a) The benefits of a high-status position typically carry an incentive to feign capability and commitment, thereby leading to suspicions of inauthenticity; and (b) Status is typically achieved through interaction patterns in which the high-status actor asserts its superiority and another’s inferiority, thereby leading to suspicions of inconsiderateness.  Three experimental studies are designed to validate this theory and help rule out an alternative hypothesis, whereby the negative correlation between status and morality derives from a psychological need for viewing the world as just or fair–leading evaluators to compensate those who lack status with higher attributions of morality.  Our studies, based on the “minimal group” paradigm, ask subjects to evaluate two arbitrary social categories based on members’ performance in a joint cognitive task.  Implications are drawn regarding high-status insecurity and the sources of instability in status hierarchies.


WORk in Process


Authentic affiliations: the effect of outside investors on market selection in the behavioral health industry

with Jae Kyung Ha

When might an affiliation with outside investors harm a firm’s reputation with its customers? Studies have shown that outside investors carry positive reputational value to the investee, based on the idea that an audiences make inferences about a firm’s capability based on its associations. We expand on this by developing the idea that non-capability characteristics can also be viewed through the prism of the network (Podolny 2001) to show the effect of affiliations on perceptions of authenticity. In particular, we argue that in certain conditions, affiliations with outside investors can reduce perceptions of authenticity, which reduce customer’s trust that the firm is committed to serving them, resulting in lower rates of market selection. We study the effect of affiliation with outside investors (e.g., private equity firms) on market selection in the context of the behavioral health industry. Through experiments on therapists in the field of behavioral health, the industry’s key consumer-side audience, we show that perceptions of authenticity are reduced by outside investor affiliation and influence the firm’s likelihood of selection. We test the generality of our argument by providing evidence for boundary conditions, showing that penalties for affiliation with outside investors only extend to those perceived to be outsiders to the industry and/or those perceived to have motives ulterior to industry norms. Articulating this mechanism and providing causal evidence contributes to research on the effects of firm identity and reputation based on network affiliations and extends organizational authenticity research beyond the realm of cultural industries. 


Sacrifice and Commitment in economic exchange: the case of overqualification in labor markets

with Roman Galperin, Jerry Guo, and Adina Sterling

Why do high status actors face difficulties moving into lower status market niches? In this paper we develop a theory of sacrifice and commitment in economic exchange and argue that audiences interpret a high status actor’s move into a lower status market niche with distrust due to the concomitant signals of commitment such actions produce. We theorize how inferences of commitment unfold along dimensions - volition and motive – which can be influenced by commitment disclaimers provided by the actor, and influences the level of acceptance of the actor’s offering in the lower status niche. We test our theory by applying it to the phenomenon of overqualification in labor markets. We first show that overqualification results from concerns about job applicant’s commitment to the prospective employer. We then reconceptualize a job application by an overqualified candidate as an act of sacrifice and show that the nature and the level of commitment concerns can be changed with disclaimers that provide information on the origins of the sacrifice (voluntary or forced) and the motives of the actor (prosocial or economic gain). We discuss the generalizability of our theory and show that the problem of unraveling two-sided markets is a special case of the problem of commitment in economic exchange and thus can be resolved without relying on a centralized matching authority.


WOrking papers

May I Deviate, Please? Status Effects on Anticipatory Impression Management

Copy available here

with Renee Richardson Gosline 

How can firms effectively reduce penalties for categorical deviance? Past research on organizational impression management indicates that firms can minimize penalty for deviance by pre-emptively using verbal accounts, or language that presents deviant behavior in a way that makes it acceptable to an audience. However, this work has yet to explore the role that organizational status plays, a factor that has also been shown to affect how audiences interpret a firm’s activities. This paper builds a bridge between these perspectives by showing how organizational status influences the effectiveness of anticipatory impression management tools like pre-emptive verbal accounts. We propose that high-status firms, unlike middle-status counterparts, are more effective at avoiding penalty for deviance when they employ the use of assertive verbal accounts that convey confidence. We design a series of experiments to test this argument in the context of the food industry. Specifically, we show that high-status firms are better off when they do not appear deferential, or overly apologetic, in anticipatory impression management signaling – while the opposite is true for middle-status firms. Mediation analysis shows that the same type of framing differently affects perceptions of skill and confidence depending on the status of the firm, but that too much perceived effort in framing the deviance will lead to negative results. Our findings support the claim that an organization’s attempts to manage audience impressions with verbal accounts must be aligned with the perceived status of the firm, such that status positively interacts with confident styles of anticipatory impression management and negatively interacts with more deferential styles.