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We examined how self-determination, the subjective experience of one’s behavior as internally initiated and personally endorsed, depends on one’s standing in real-world social hierarchies. We predicted that those with the traits most relevant to status attainment would be those afforded the most opportunities to be self-determining. We examined the trait of physical attractiveness, given its documented association with social status and no known association with self-determination. First-year undergraduates living in same-sex residences rated their housemates’ social status, while an independent set of observers rated the participants’ physical attractiveness. Consistent with prediction, physically attractive individuals attained the highest levels of social status; in turn, those who attained the highest levels of social status experienced the highest levels of self-determination. These findings provide new insights into self-determination as an inherently relational phenomenon and specifically highlight the formative influence of social status on people’s capacities for self-determination.


Institute for Positive Psychology and Education

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Open Access Journal Article

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Open Access


Creative Commons CC BY: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.