Attention at any cost

  • attention used to be an indicator for rank height
  • at some point it became a purpose in itself to gain rank
Overview of topics:
Attention for rank height
Attention is male

Self-worth builds on the feedback we receive from our environment. Thus, our self-esteem is linked to our rank in society.

Attention for rank height

From many species we know that higher ranking animals are looked at more often. Group members inform themselves about the mood of the higher ranking ones. After all, you don’t want to cross the boss´s path on a bad day.

So, being looked at was only a symptom of high ranking. Observers could understand the ranking order from the gaze pattern in the group. But some clever chimpanzees understood that system and used it for an easy way to higher ranks. They manipulated the group to look at them through conspicuous behaviour. And it worked. Unreflectively, the group interprets members whose behavior attracts attention as ranking higher. This way being looked at became a self-serving purpose for rank height. The more attention I generate, the further I climb in the ranks, even if the type of conspicuousness says nothing about my importance for the group.

From:

High rank deserves attention from the group

became:

Attention from the group deserves high ranking

Attention is male

In the male sex lies not only a tendency towards more conspicuous behaviour, “typically male” activities also frequently have a more striking character. For example, hunting spoils were expected with great anticipation. Hunters (predominantly men) received much more recognition than collectors (predominantly women), even though both contributed half of the food. Gatherers brought very important skills with them, such as the recognition of poisonous plants.

Today the activities of the sexes overlap, but there are still stereotypes. When men take on activities that are considered “typically female”, they often need to do something very special. A meal, for example, is not simply cooked, but a five-star menu or something unusual. Bischof-Köhler sees the fact that grandma’s kitchen has become fashionable as a possible indication of equal rights, because appreciation is given to a “typically female” activity that is otherwise perceived as self-evident, if not even devaluated.

This finding of attention as tool for ranking has implications for dealing with inappropriate behaviour. Imagine, for example, a class clown who constantly disturbs lessons. While the teacher admonishes him continuously, the pure attention sends an upgrading feedback. The class clown provokes and is rewarded by attention that increases his self-esteem.


» back to:

Self-esteem of the sexes

selfworth-mirror - Happy Jona
self-esteem – a deep look into the mirror

sources: 1. Bischof-Köhler “Von Natur aus anders” 2006, p. 271 – 274