Evolutionary Psychology

www.epjournal.net – 2014. 12(2): 318-342


Original Article

Ontogeny and Social Dominance: A Developmental View of Human Power
Patricia H. Hawley, College of Education, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX, USA. Email:
Patricia.Hawley@ttu.edu (Corresponding author).

Abstract: Developmental science has long evolutionary roots and has historically focused
on individual differences. Accordingly, developmental models can inform conversations
about phylogeny and personality. The present paper evokes life history theory to describe a
theoretical model of competitive behavior that applies to both children and adults (resource
control theory: RCT). The model suggests that prosocial and coercive behavior, though
different in manifest form, serve similar evolutionary functions. Accordingly, RCT presents
a view on social dominance that gives primacy to function over form that contrasts sharply
from traditional views. This reformulation gives rise to novel questions (both
developmental and non-developmental) and challenges long accepted views on prosociality
(e.g., that it is altruistic) and aggression (e.g., that it is maladaptive). Similarly, RCT gives
rise to a minority perspective that aligns aggression with social competence.

Keywords: individual differences, personality, development, social dominance, power,

Evolution, Development, and Individual Differences

In 2011, David Buss and I published the first edited volume on the evolution of
individual differences in humans (Buss and Hawley, 2011). Our claims were quite lofty, the
volume “heralding a sea-change in thinking within evolutionary psychology” (Hawley and
Buss, 2011, p. xvi). We claimed this because variation in the population (i.e., individual
differences) is known to be fundamental to the evolutionary process. Without it, natural
selection could not occur. However, like our contributors, we turned the logic: Individual
differences are not only the input for selective forces, but also their outcome.
This minority view made the volume unique. To many, the “evolution of
personality” is nearly an oxymoron. The logic for dismissing individual differences is fairly
straightforward: Adaptations, though admittedly context specific, are “universals,” and
variability surrounding some modal response pattern can be reasonably seen as error
variance or noise (Tooby and Cosmides, 1990). Accordingly, most scholars in evolutionary

Ontogeny and social dominance

psychology heretofore have focused on said universals, except for variants associated with
very broad categories (e.g., sex).This state of affairs may seem perplexing given the early
success of the behavioral genetics paradigm and the fact that personality factors have long
been known to play a key role in adaptive outcomes (Buss and Greiling, 1999; Jokela,
2012; Jokela, Kivimäki, Elovainio, and Keltikangas-Järvinen, 2009; Ozer and Benet-
Martinez, 2005). In fact, for several decades, quantitative (Figueredo, Petrinovich, and
Ross, 1992; Hawley and Little, 2003) and theoretical (Gosling, 2001; Wilson, Coleman,
Clark, and Biederman, 1993) personality work was being conducted with animals (Carere
and Maestripieri, 2013).
Though at least two broad classes of evolutionary theoretical frameworks give rise
to empirical work on the evolution of personality1, one stands out as particularly relevant
for our present purposes. Namely, until fairly recently, a long standing puzzle
(ontogenetically, if not phylogenetically) was the fact that multiple morphs (some visible
and striking, others subtly quantitative) simultaneously exist in populations. The most
widespread across taxa is reproductive (male, female), recognized as such even by Darwin
(1871). In many fish and insects, these morphs can be so strikingly different that specimens
were long mistaken for different species, making taxonomy work especially challenging
(Gadgil, 1972; Gross, 1991). Take Schistocerca gregaria, for example. It will become a
harmless, solitary grasshopper if the nymph is hatched under a low population density
where it is unperturbed by the presence of others. However, if hatched under densely
populated conditions (coinciding with resource scarcity), it is more likely to become a
social, swarming locust. In response to physical stimulation in the nymph phase,
neurotransmitters (e.g., serotonin) are released. In turn, these proximal mechanisms
restructure its behavioral and physical phenotype (Homberg, 1991). Its manifest form is
dependent on its local conditions, hence “condition dependent adaptations” (i.e.,
“alternative tactics”; Caro and Bateson, 1986). That is, key environmental inputs calibrate
the system toward a favorably competitive strategy for the prevailing local environmental
conditions. Yet, the genome results in no permanent changes.
“Plasticity… is a universal property of living things” (West-Eberhard, 2003; p. 34).
Responses to environmental change can be discrete or graded, reversible or irreversible,
behavioral or morphological, adaptive or non-adaptive (Caro and Bateson, 1986; Pigliucci,
2001; Whitman and Agrawal, 2009). Plasticity, like individual differences, was largely
dismissed by biologists as “noise” (Whitman and Agrawal, 2009) until roughly two
decades ago, when biologists began focusing on proximate causation and ontogenetic
histories (Caro and Bateson, 1986; Whitman and Agrawal, 2009).

The other is drawn from evolutionary genetics and accordingly stems from the contributions of Fisher, 1958,
Wright, 1931, and Haldane, 1932. Namely, this work draws on mathematical models of factors involved in
evolutionary change (e.g., mutation, selection, migration, drift) and the resultant genotype frequencies within
populations (e.g., frequency-dependent selection). Such models have been applied to human psychopathy
(Mealey, 1995) and personality (e.g., Camperio Ciani, 2011; Nettle, 2011), but lie outside the scope of the
present work.

Evolutionary Psychology – ISSN 1474-7049 – Volume 12(2). 2014. -319-

smiles (positive affect). he appreciated the importance of differential response patterns resulting from varying ecologies: Instinctive behavior is not inherited. as evolutionary hypotheses have been proposed that are contradicted by developmental data. Steinberg. developmental work is all too often ignored in evolutionary circles. In other words. Bowlby’s perspective was refreshingly modern. 2 Developmental psychology is often understood to mean “child psychology. what is inherited is a potential to develop certain sorts of system. serve a similar function (purpose). others. and.. dependent on one’s local ecological conditions. and Wall. reflexes) function to maintain proximity to the primary caregiver (Bowlby. or dismissed as irrelevant. ontogenetic behavioral changes. This is a mistake. On this latter point evolutionists are well versed. Footnote 1) is inherently developmental. Developmental psychologists2 have long explored proximate mechanisms for abrupt. vocalizations. Blehar. “risk factors”. 1991. though the present language used to describe said processes was adopted not from biology. Drawing on biological models. maintaining proximity to the primary caregiver. 1969/1982). Bowlby proposed that the mother-infant bond was the most important first context for humans that provides the basis of personality development.g. and cries (negative affect). though in language appropriate for their time. -320- . Jessor. and one’s relationship to the material world (e. In other words. but rather medicine (e. Humans. concern with individual responses to environments. avoidant. 1969/1982. Given developmental psychology’s deep evolutionary roots. and many developmentalists have strong biological backgrounds (e. in the natural world there are several ways (forms) to solve similar problems (function). including grasps. Robert Lickliter. Jean Piaget) in ways that Child Psychologists typically do not. take different forms. though very different in form (phenomenal manifestation). separation anxiety. and experience with early calibration processes. as a clinician. and Draper. positive and negative social cues in the infant. anxious). 1978). Robert Cairns. cognitive schema about the self.. These adaptations. Bowlby explained.” This is incorrect. both the nature and the forms of which differ in some measure according to the particular environment in which development takes place..” Evolutionary Psychology – ISSN 1474-7049 – Volume 12(2). Ainsworth. the nature of the attachment relationship calibrates one to the social environment in which one finds oneself (e. 45) Mary Ainsworth elaborated the evolutionary foundations of attachment theory to include a more articulated perspective on the calibration of personality. As a consequence. one research tradition that famously borrowed from evolutionary biology and ethology was attachment theory. secure. 2014. not unlike Schistocerca gregaria. 2007). in this case. (Bowlby. p.g. 1991). Gilbert Gottleib. John Bowlby and Mary Salter Ainsworth addressed similar calibrations.g.g.. One such proposition is “bullies are ostracized. termed here behavioral systems. More recent instantiations have extended attachment theory to adult reproductive strategies (Belsky. Developmentalists study change over time in both humans and animals. Mikulincer and Shaver.g. Ontogeny and social dominance The above described evolutionary model (cf. In sharp contrast. Waters. are in some sense polymorphic. one in which automatic and ancient primate behaviors (e..

Roff. reproduction. as demonstrated by S. later reproduction.g. Figueredo et al. late reproduction. attachment styles are different solutions to the problems faced by the child after birth (an individual’s adaptation to local circumstances). such as environmental instability and unpredictability (Pianka. -321- . Ontogeny and social dominance developmental scholars are uniquely prepared to weigh in on evolutionary processes and individual differences. Generally.. the constituents of which generally live briefly. including growth. Life History Theory (LHT) All species have a phylogenetic history that shaped the modal course of their life trajectories. A species “life history” is the modal pattern of a lifelong stream of adaptive trade-offs for allocating finite resources toward competing life functions. snakes... Attachment profiles are a case in point. which takes different forms to serve similar functions (reproductive competition) in the different environments in which the organism finds itself. With LHT lenses (e. short life) or slow (protracted development. early reproduction. it has also been successfully applied to account for variation within species. and bias toward bearing few. avoidant attachment is not seen as a maladaptive response to suboptimal environments simply because it leads to unappealing behavior (e. In other words. 1991). Rushton. Bull.. 2004. like S. longer gestation. humans (like apes in general) tend to be positioned on the “slow” end of the continuum (formerly referred to as “K” strategists) as indicated by our slow maturation. 2014. The group’s response to those solutions is a secondary consequence to that adaptive process.. avoidance is seen as a persistent adaptive psychological response to a certain psychological climate within the family ecology (Frankenhuis and del Giudice. and bear hundreds of offspring that require no parental care but at the same time suffer high mortality rates. LHT’s explanatory power lies in its explicit recognition that organisms are responsive to complex inputs (the modality of detection varies across species) from their physical and social environments and..g. above.g. agreeableness). aggressive self-assertion). In contrast. and survival (West-Eberhard. Belsky et al. Important for our present purposes. First. Moreover. different forms to serve similar functions in the different environments in which the organism finds itself. humans. 1983) but also continuous behavioral traits (e. are predictably flexible in their developmental course This intraspecific variation includes not only physical characteristics (e. longer life) on a continuum. the framework has revealed the variability in life history courses across humans (Ellis. come to reproductive age quickly.g.. Rather. These patterns have been described in terms of being fast (rapid development. Fast strategists (formerly known as “r” strategists) are well represented in the parasite world. slow-developing offspring that require a good deal of parental care. 2012). Three primary points from LHT are important to set up the argument that follows.g. large- brained. 2003). 1992) is the metatheoretical framework that describes and explains these processes and outcomes as functions of ecological variables. aggressiveness. life history theory has been applied to cross-species variation (interspecies questions) in the field of biology.g. 2006. or.g.. Life history theory (e. Evolutionary Psychology – ISSN 1474-7049 – Volume 12(2). and reptiles. brief gestation. 1970) and concomitant rate of population loss. environmental sex determination in some turtles. 1985). accordingly.

for example. this scenario is ill-described with appeals to psychological egoism. and Schlomer. -322- . 1984. Moreover. we must distinguish form from function in all we do as evolutionists..” then. 2009. via mathematical modeling. In the meantime. and we know what these social and material cues are (e. and they can sometimes take surprising forms. 2014. But there has been at least one domain. Axelrod. phenotypic plasticity).g. as if in some naturally occurring Olympics. These enduring individual differences (traits) can be considered “strategies” in LHT and behavioral ecology parlance (Ellis. is in part decided by the context within which we find ourselves. 1964). Yet.g. 2011).. Hamilton. de Waal. however. In this sense..e.. 2003). 2012. West-Eberhard. Hawley. and attentive and protective parents can out-reproduce inattentive ones. individual differences in behavior (including sociality) can be seen as inherently competitive or cooperative insofar as individuals are attempting to maximize gains and minimize costs in the presence of others doing the same. 1999.g. Hawley. harsh parenting). adaptations.. poverty. and shown to occur in actual populations. 1996). or those alleles or phenotypic traits that come to be well-represented in the population. have evolved a degree of structured responsivity to key social and material cues in the environment (i. helping. is on whether this calibration leads to maladaptation or something that can be seen as beneficial to the organism (e. Third. sympathy. this may seem obvious. from very early on it was understood that prosocial behavior (e. where this canon has fallen through the cracks.. and elephants. This first point is well- documented by developmental psychologists. Humans (and wolves. For example. Conflating evolutionary and psychological egoism Conventionally – and mistakenly – this underlying competitive foundation is taken to mean that animals behaviorally compete. have done so at the expense of others that become less well-represented. Kropotkin. Natural selection and the competitive ethos Natural selection at some level implies competition insofar as asymmetrical outcomes are a key driver of evolution (Dawkins. Figueredo. 1976. cooperating) and emotions (e.g. Where developmental psychology and LHT part ways. 2011. This point of course is non-controversial and has been demonstrated in laboratories. sharing. and slime mold spores) have evolved to be nice to one another. Parental love. environmental cues carry information about important aspects of the competitive landscape that organisms detect and respond to. and ants. is inherently biologically selfish. “Human nature. but these types of contests are only a small minority of the types of competition the theory of evolution by natural selection predicts.. empathy) are just as much a part of nature as are aggression and agonism (e. attentive parents rear children who are themselves more successful parents than are children of inattentive parents. Second. 1902).g. Bowles and Gintis. Ellis et al. In fact. Of course some do this.g. these perspectives have been well-elaborated (e. That is. I will argue. neither psychological egoism nor “competition” in the conventional sense are required of Evolutionary Psychology – ISSN 1474-7049 – Volume 12(2). Ontogeny and social dominance like many organisms. To those in the field. Bickering over which is the true human nature will generate more heat than light. Brumbach.

2013. and has seriously confounded non-evolutionary writers’ attempts to incorporate evolutionary logic. If we’re going to create a general model of behavior.versus individual-level selection. 2014 for extended handling of psychological and evolutionary altruism and egoism). In my view (and as I have argued at length elsewhere in the developmental literature over a decade ago. These discussions are interesting to the lay public because one side seems to provide the biological underpinnings for morality and religion while the other does not. p. 3 “Evolution is based on a fierce competition between individuals and should therefore only reward selfish behavior” (Nowak. Dodge and Albert. Dominance: What’s in a Word? Dominant: Exercising chief authority or rule. 2014. for example. Etymology: Latin domināt. 2012). But in one domain of inquiry. Ontogeny and social dominance superior strategies. Having a brain of some kind is a bare minimal condition. 1976) means behavioral or psychological self-interest (e. namely. 1999). and eschew social dominance.org.3 Darwin (1871) conflated the two as well. Psychological altruism/selfishness applies to very few. govern. 1560). 1871. If you want humans to be “good. Abbot et al. Gintis.” you will favor leadership and egalitarianism. venerated writers to claim that group selection accounts for the origin of “virtue” whereas individual level selection gives rise to “sin” (Wilson. 4 “…each man would soon learn from experience that if he aided his fellow-men. Evolutionary Psychology – ISSN 1474-7049 – Volume 12(2). 2006). Occupying a commanding position. regardless of where you stand in the eusociality-inclusive fitness debate. 2012. Nowak. we should consider the whole continuum of life and eschew human exceptionalism as a philosophical starting point.participial stem of dominārī to bear rule. p.4 Consequences of conflating evolutionary and psychological egoism This confounding of psychological and biological egoism has led to a number of circuitous detours in evolutionary circles. this influence has crept in invisibly to great effect. These discussions are highly visible because teams of outspoken eminent writers are sparring in open forums (see. Dawkins. From this low motive he might acquire… the habit of performing benevolent actions” (Darwin.. 2011). -323- . it is preposterous to think of a cellular slime mold spore that adopts the role of the supportive stalk and consequently foregoes its own reproduction to support that of another cell as psychologically altruistic (see Hawley. 163). On the other hand. for example. Hawley. and social dominance. he would commonly receive aid in return. such as leadership. Yet. and has led some very influential. Biological altruism (or selfishness) applies to every living organism. this is a false and misleading debate based on overly narrow conceptions of dominance and a conflation of form and function. egalitarianism. one still finds confusion even among academics over whether evolutionary self- interest (or “selfishness”. 2006. in discussing hierarchical political systems..g. Edge. One sees this confounding emerge regularly in debates over group.

narrow views of the competitive essence of natural selection predominated. hierarchical structure) is 5 Perhaps there is a conflation with “domineering”. Accordingly. 1997. submissive gestures).. 2013.g. 2006).” Consequences to favoring agonism as a strategy of resource control There are at least two consequences of this form-focused view that equates dominance with agonism. Bühler. 2005. Alonso.g. which indicates this is accepted use since the mid-16th century. involving “struggles” or “tussles. 2011. and a smaller step further to conclude. Tsukada and Tsuchida.. Abramovitch (1976) defined dominance as property fights. overbearing. Males are more physically aggressive than females as early as the age of 3. In terms of the form-function discussion above. this is a functional definition. see also Boehm. the peck order construal quickly impacted work in child development (e. it is (adult) male centered.. p 191. in press). Textbooks and journal articles define dominance as a “sexually selected manifestation of conflict” (Alcock. Carpenter. Quite literally. it was a description of how hens compete for desired resources by pecking each other. The very first dominance hierarchy to be described was the peck-order of chickens (Schjelderup. 34). However. even though the function of such contests is always understood to be resource control (the theoretical model. insolent (Oxford English Dictionary. it ignores the instrumentality of being nice. fighting ability. Yamada. First. mating. Second. 2012. 2014. p. and Kaiser. and similarly has left a legacy of continued focus on the form of behavior (agonistic contests. and position in the group while traveling. Matsuura. along with superiority in aggressiveness or group control-.Ebbe. where “alpha males control group activities and others are intimidated or forced to acquiesce” (van Vugt.e. Ontogeny and social dominance The above definition of dominant was drawn from the Oxford English Dictionary. 2013). Moreira.a definition that holds today” (Boehm. see Hawley. 1999. 332). 2003. Important for our purposes. 1999 for extended discussion. the predominant political structure in group living social species (i. 5 Dominance and dominance hierarchies entered the modern biological vernacular in the early 19th century. on average (Maccoby and Jacklin. -324- . This work was highly influential and gave rise to the aggression-based view of social dominance that persists to this day across species and taxa (e. 6 “Carpenter. Ruling arbitrarily or imperiously. Krebs and Davies.. At that time. 1974). 2000). notice that nowhere in this definition is implied how dominance is accomplished. which leads to several consequences of its own. despotic. tyrannical. Dominance and the masculine political structure. p. defined dominance in terms of priority of access to food. Gintis. Ishikawa. a “pure exercise of power by socially dominant males” (Gintis. This is not controversial. Hofer and East. Honji. 1927). it is then just a small step to conclude that social dominance is the purview of males. therefore. Moreover. Hogan. Evolutionary Psychology – ISSN 1474-7049 – Volume 12(2).. and Pandolfi. Pelletier and Festa-Bianchet. this view led early animal behavior researchers to look for hierarchical behavior in asymmetries in agonism and aggression. 1922). 2008. 1942 for conflation of form and function in a single definition6) For example.

In contrast. Gintis. Fudenberg. Indeed.. Hsu. 2003. p. or certainly so say primatologists who have beautifully described and explained the complex strategies – some nice and some nasty – that primates use to “occupy a commanding position” (Boehm. 2010). that the agonism view is incomplete. Bowles. and Nowak. “egoistic” or “selfish. 2006) the ability to learn from one’s previous interactions with a conspecific. 1982a). Second. Early. “Instrumentality” neutrally connotes that some goal is attained by what an organism does. I use the term “instrumental” because it is more neutral than its linguistic cousins. There is nothing wrong with this focus as it led to discovering the signaling value of dominance and submission displays. Hrdy. some prominent primatologists (e. Form-focus ignores instrumentality of being a good group member and a good cooperator.. Ontogeny and social dominance essentially masculine. Dunbar. Cooperation. 2010) nor human infants (Mascaro and Csibra. 2005. 1993. for example. Rand. Drea.. Tarnita. Together we can pursue goals (e. for the most part. Not surprisingly then. de Waal.g. is viewed in these circles to Evolutionary Psychology – ISSN 1474-7049 – Volume 12(2). and uncovering even in “simple” species (e.g. Thus. I would argue. however. then. For example. Gintis. the function-focus approach presented here shines light on variegated ascension strategies. 1982a. its extreme form manifesting in eusociality where most of the group members are of castes that forego reproduction altogether to support the reproduction of a few (Nowak. 1981/1999. the most eloquent and thorough.. neither chimpanzees (Boehm and Flack. -325- .. they have been much harder to document (e. and Wolf. Cooperation. fish. is a very effective material goal pursuit strategy (Charlesworth. the word “cooperation” is tricky because it has been used in different ways. which are. female status-striving. 1997) have argued that female political structures.” which are highly pejorative and a source of confusion in psychological circles. An unintended consequence of this focus on male aggression is that the political structures of females were (and continue to be) downplayed relative to males’ (as were patterns of aggression in females). Admittedly. which in biological circles (not psychological circles) generally means engaging in behavior that enhances the fitness benefits of another while bearing a fitness cost to the self (-/+). and as a side-effect (not a central goal).g. 2006: “. 2014. in my view.. though less visible to field workers.g. in press.g. And presumably because behaviors used for hierarchy ascent take a different form (but not a different function). it is often claimed that socially dominant males hold the central positions in their social groups (Gintis.the self-interest model predicts no cooperation”. was Machiavelli’s [1513/1966] treatise).. in press) and consequently enjoy differential attention and grooming. Indeed. 3). 2008. are in fact longer lasting. being a good group member is highly instrumental. Dreber. reproductive suppression). Gowaty. This conclusion is reified into an assumption. as well as priority in ally selection and access to mates (de Waal. 2012) need see any act of aggression to draw important and enduring conclusions about relative ranks among others (see also early work on leadership in humans that similarly demonstrated that humans can “exercise chief authority or rule” in variegated ways.. 1996). Nowak. in this literature. evolutionary perspectives from economics use the term interchangeably with altruism. Boyd. and yet it says nothing about psychological egoism or altruism. and Richerson. grants) that neither can successfully attain alone. 1988). irrelevant for the present work. cooperation is assumed to be cost-bearing (e. and Wilson.

Boehm. Consequently. Griffin. As a result of a long history of humans forming mutually beneficial friendly relationships (i. 2009). for extended treatment). I sell you bread so that I can make money. Hrdy.. Boehm. the present view is more explicitly in line with Adam Smith’s proposal that cooperation stems not out of self-sacrifice. 1999). but rather self-interest as a primary concern. Tarnita. Silk. Self-sacrifice is not inherent to this point of view (see also Alexander. group. Alberts..e. it is enough to say that one benefits from group living because solitary living bears enormous costs in many domains (food procurement.g. the cautious reader must bear in mind that “other regarding preferences” are not to be read as “selfless. 2007).” since ORPs still include self payoff. none of which have any bearing on the present piece. Instead. The above view may strike some as narrow and semantically confusing because of the cooperation-altruism conflation. unaware of biological evolution. 1987. 2002).. the function of the behavior is biological self-interest (with psychological self-interest being wide open to debate) and it is “cooperative” in terms of it benefitting another (see also West. West et al. 2014. child rearing.g. rearing young. Hamilton. You having bread is secondary to me). the psychologist assumes cooperation is motivationally selfless. 7 Economists utilizing game theoretic models appear to refer to regarding the other while regarding the self as “other regarding preferences” (in contrast to narrowly focused “self regarding preferences” which refer to exclusive concern with one’s own advantage). Valuing others is a case in point. That humans can be reciprocally nice (i. Smith. Say “altruism” to a psychologist and they think motivationally “selfless. -326- . Like other evolutionary thinkers concerned with various forms of reciprocity (e. The high-level. prosocial) as a consequence of evolutionary forces is not controversial. 1969/1982).. the desire for attachments to others is seen as a basic and foundational human need with deep evolutionary roots (Baumeister and Leary. and these benefits naturally select behaviors that increase the probability that the group accepts us as valued group members.. For our purposes. 2014. Trivers.g. individuals vs. 1971). mutual benefit seems to underlie the formation of human society in ways that sets us apart from the apes (Nowak. 1971) as the behavior can be mutually beneficial (+/+. and Wilson. social and material support. They were more likely to make friends and benefit from these friendships as we still do (e.e. Our “other-regarding preferences”7 reflect a commitment to self and other simultaneously (see also Bakan. 2007). Trivers. 1995. 1966. Krause and Ruxton. 2011). 2011. that when fulfilled. could only then be talking about psychological self-interest (e.. and Gardner. Nowak. Indeed. 1999). People who valued others were more likely to treat group members with respect and goodwill than were people who did not value others (this of course is true even today). 1964. Abbot et al..g. Ontogeny and social dominance demonstrate some degree of sacrifice for the welfare of others.” Use cooperation and altruism interchangeably. indirect reciprocity). accentuated by a failure to distinguish biological from psychological self-interest. pays (e. Evolutionary Psychology – ISSN 1474-7049 – Volume 12(2).. Bowlby.g. The surface logic seems sound. Therein lies the danger of using metaphor to explain biological concepts (see Hawley. sometimes acrimonious discussion in top tier journals is about evolutionary mechanisms underlying cooperation (e. It is a need. protection. 2006.

and valuable information regarding work. 1981. and social exchange theories for a psychological view: Blau. or informational resources relative to others.g. material. invitations. Walster. 2003). and will readily drop a friend (“parasite”) who does not reciprocate material benefits (e. 1976. resource control refers to the extent to which individuals successfully access social. Gruenfeld. or events (informational. 1976) and animal behaviorists (Bernstein. Thus. and Alderman. This definition is sufficiently general to include access to and attention from high status others (social). 1974).. it pays to be nice to others. is a theory of individual differences in behavior and personality. Following the lead of ethologists and biologists. These 8 Developmental psychologists seem. e. Resource control Here.8 This latter point is foundational to resource control theory. Ontogeny and social dominance and Altmann. school projects.. can certainly be achieved directly. 1971 for an evolutionary foundation for these processes. outcomes to these daily competitions are presumed to be highly visible.. as has been set up above. 1964. food.g. Resource Control Theory Resource control theory (Hawley. and Anderson. 1967. Keltner. is an evolutionary developmental theory of social dominance that. considers the developing child to be responsive to key social and material cues in what is essentially a competitive environment. 1999). Walster. cooperation) – used to “occupy a commanding position” (OED). Chance. 1978). objects meeting one’s survival needs and denoting status (material. 2014. are not. 1988). Elaborating somewhat to accommodate humans’ rather advanced cognitive capacities. Coercive strategies. Abramovitch . and without consideration for the goals and motivations of others.g. van Vugt and Hardy.. especially if those others are in a position to bestow benefits. Strayer and Strayer. This latter group openly reports that they are very aware of the benefits they get from friends. favors. expediently. But they can also be met by coordinating efforts with other group members. As with other animal species. that they are keenly aware when they do not receive the benefits they had hoped for.. see Trivers. Evolutionary Psychology – ISSN 1474-7049 – Volume 12(2).e. 2009. Rowell. strategies) – which may be either negatively valenced (e. 2010).g.. Hawley. College students. RCT recognizes the utility of aggression. drink. food. 1963. 1972. deception and overt manipulation reside in this category (Byrne and Whiten. agonism) or positively valenced (e. and moreover admit that their friend selection has key instrumental elements. clothing: Sahlins. -327- . 2003). or successfully competing for resources in the presence of others. uncomfortable with the possibility that friendship selection is psychologically selfish. McGrew. as a rule. with roots in the work of human ethologists (e. Shorey. and Berscheid. Resource control strategies Meeting one’s needs in a social group. especially in contexts that have a zero-sum quality.g. I use the function-focused term “dominance” to set up important questions about the development of behavioral forms (i. however.

the socially dominant) will win positive regard because of their evident effectiveness in the material world. underlying psychological motivations are likely complex. 2000). Hawley. Yet. -328- . Nor does this definition rule out self- benefit. 1983).g. this wisdom is being chipped away: There is emerging evidence that suggests that a sizeable subset of the aggressively powerful youths are highly regarded by peers and are even sought out for friendships and alliances. and King. 1996. competition takes on a non-zero sum quality. psychologically) self-serving behaviors. eschewing monikers of virtue and evil) and instead it predicts that those occupying commanding positions (i.e. This point would be true regardless of whether one found individual level selection (direct benefit) or group selection (indirect benefit) more compelling (Hawley. This assumption has been made in anthropological (Boehm. prosocial behavior refers to “voluntary actions that are intended to help or benefit another individual” (Eisenberg and Mussen 1989.. In reality. Radke-Yarrow. 1989). Charlesworth.e. even if this power is wielded aggressively (the social centrality hypothesis. 1998). multiple interactants can gain in this cooperative or reciprocal context. RCT holds a morally neutral view to such behavior (i..” In specific terms. This point will be re-addressed in more detail later. 1994. All of these motivations.. prosociality may be blatantly psychologically egoistic (e. Here. most studies in the field of child development have tended to focus on altruism and have shown that even at an early age. may in fact be ultimately (evolutionarily) instrumental.. Ontogeny and social dominance strategies characteristically exploit individual group members or bypass the social group entirely. only that your genes benefit from it. Eisenberg and Mussen.e. Eisenberg. Quite unlike coercive strategies. children are capable of psychological altruism or the precursors thereof (Hoffman. Namely. Eisenberg and Giallanza. and child development circles (Coie and Dodge. there is a prevalent assumption that social groups are intolerant of such brazenly (e.. Evolutionary Psychology – ISSN 1474-7049 – Volume 12(2). they are the source of a good deal of controversy. Zahn-Waxler. performed consciously for present or future reward). They are anything but ostracized.. motivated only by true other-oriented/selfless concerns. 1984). Important for our purposes. 2014). 1983. in the field of child development. 2014. economic (Fehr and Gächter. As straightforward as these strategies seem. Yet. subtly egoistic (winning favor from a colleague).g. however. Prosocial strategies. p. this definition does not favor any one of a variety of possible underlying psychological motivations (egoistic or altruistic) (Campbell and Christopher. 1971. Simply put. directly or indirectly. These strategies too are the source of some irritation in the literature predominantly centering on confusion about the term “prosocial. indirect strategies exploit the mediating effect of the social group to access resources prosocially. 1996). especially in light of the common conflation of biological and psychological self- interest.g. Trivers. prosocial strategies’ theoretical roots are in the evolution of cooperation and reciprocation (e. those who have demonstrated competitive success. 1999). we should find power attractive. 1996. as direct means do. Instead of bypassing the social group. 3). 1999). or psychologically altruistic (i. Natural selection does not require you to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. This friction is important for our present purposes because it points to the value-added by the present view. Thus.

. Evolutionary Psychology – ISSN 1474-7049 – Volume 12(2).. we found that persistence (temperament). if these relative competitive differentials are associated with behavior outside of the competitive context.e. however. Can prosocial behavior provide self -benefits? To this end.. 1999). and Cosmides. 2009 for a different perspective). the stronger effect of their relative ranks on their respective behavior. which suggested to us just how basic these abilities and learning processes are. 1984) suggested that when put in pairwise interactions in a non-competitive play situation (where there are plenty of toys for both interactants). an influence that speaks to the central organizing power of this aspect of relationships (I have argued elsewhere that the early ethological work had limitations in this regard.g.g.g. and familiarity with the setting predicted dominance well more than physical size. Moreover. 2007). In fact. selection by consequence). gender. What predicts dominance differentials and do they organize non-competitive social behavior? It has been repeatedly shown that it is possible to organize children in a group according to high and low dominance rank (e. Strayer and Strayer. both pay in terms of strengthening the bond to the caregiver. Our own attempts at borrowing from the social relations model of social psychology (Kenny and LaVoie. material. the first source of social.. Teachers and parents. namely. a novel toy).e. when paired with a child of lower rank. toddlers). dominance rank nonetheless mediates the relationship between characteristics of the child (e. cognitive age.e.e.. we began to chip away at long-held beliefs from ethology. protesting) are instrumental in human infants. all things being equal. -329- . when one includes psychological variables. girls were favored over boys in the preschool years. What types of behavior in children are associated with resource use? When do they emerge and what is their developmental course? One of the key and most controversial questions raised by RCT involves the instrumentality of prosocial behavior. and less likely to imitate and passively watch (Hawley and Little. temperament) and play behavior.g. Doing so only has meaning. These path models spoke to two important issues: the predictors of relative success in toddlers and the power of these differentials to predict non-competitive social behavior (Hawley and Little. 2011. crying. however. These relationships were moderated by the degree of familiarity of the children. and informational resources. 2014. Regarding the first issue. that size and gender (i. cognitive age (as assessed by the Bayley Scales of Infant Development). These foundations give rise to interesting developmental questions. will attempt to teach her that smiling and sharing is more effective and socially preferable. A child may learn that pinching is highly effective at wresting the swing from a peer. Ontogeny and social dominance The development of social dominance and power Bowlby understood that both positively valenced (smiling. Sell... “you color here”). touching) and negatively valenced behaviors (e. These strategies are honed and elaborated in the peer group via operant and social learning processes (i. All children were under the age of 3 (i. Tooby. Regarding the second issue. the more experience they had with each other. Children of middle rank behaved like dominants when paired with children of lower rank.. 1999). Hawley. children were more likely to engage with the play material and issue directives (e. 1976). we set up quasi-experimental situations to look closely at what children do to access a highly attractive limited resource (i. big males) predict social dominance (but see Lukaszewski and Roney. yet deferred to and imitated those of higher rank.

insults. Olthof. Goossens. Machiavelli.. also associated with resource use). see also Green. As with more complex game theoretic models. Vermande. others: e. coercive. For example. issuing polite requests. 2008. our program has focused on types of resource controlling individuals depending on their relative employment of the two strategies. both strategies were highly related to each other (r = . Prosocial controllers are above average on resource control (thus reasonably socially dominant). Hawley. 2008. and Ciccetti. Pellegrini. 2012. in principle. most humans flexibly use both strategies to some degree. Are there mixed strategists? Coercive and prosocial strategies find their analog in game theoretic models under the guise of hawks (escalation) and doves (caution). Rogosch. 2012). and van der Meulen. RCT does not see humans as pure strategists. Over the last decade (Hawley. 2002). we documented that prosocial behaviors (e.53). We then compare these types across dependent variables of interest to derive qualities associated with the two strategies alone and in combination.g. Teisl. or other report (Hawley..e. with the modal (life history) pattern being one of a mixed strategy (see Hawley. Chen and Chang.. 2012). -330- . Patterson. That is. we (and.. they are not resource directed).b). 1980. aggression. Hawley and Geldhof.. but were also the most often employed strategy class (at twice the frequency of coercion: taking. and non-controllers possess very distinct profiles of socially appealing traits and corresponding social success. the relative employment of which is an important source of individual differences. and non- controllers are low on both relative to others (i. 2002. more recently. Rechis. Oshri. it would be optimal to be a “mixed strategist. 2014. With this framework in mind. Roseth et al. Machiavelli essentially described the mixed strategist on his treatise of political power (Berlin. self-report. and the profiles have in turn revealed some interesting and counterintuitive (from most views) aspects of aggression and prosociality. offering “help” to commandeer the play material. Indeed. Cillessen. 2003a. just as one would expect of behaviors sharing common function. 2006 for details). We know quite a bit about these profiles across multiple age groups. 2011. Typical controllers are the largest remaining group and are average on both strategies and as such represent the modal life history pattern and a baseline for comparison. and Hughes. highly socially Evolutionary Psychology – ISSN 1474-7049 – Volume 12(2). Children employing these behaviors effectively controlled our resource over 70% of the time. Moreover. 2011) have generated five subgroups of individuals: bistrategic controllers employ both strategies to a high degree relative to peers. Aleva. initiating unequal trades) not only were associated with resource use (r = .g. and critical to the present perspective. more interesting to us is a model where “players” bring distinct genotypes that are calibrated by early environments. 2011. 2002 for evidence of its emergence in preschool. for example. we do have good evidence that prosocial behavior can be instrumental across multiple age groups (see.g. exploitation) by drawing on aggressive behaviors to punish free riders. coercive controllers employ coercive strategies to a high degree. Though not the most popular aspect to our program of research. 1513/1966). prosocial. prosocial controllers employ prosocial strategies to a high degree.67). The degree to which an individual employs the strategies can be measured by way of observation (Hawley. Roseth et al.. Ontogeny and social dominance In the course of filming and coding behavior from multiple dyadic interactions. making helpful suggestions.” Those who are able to cooperate and aggress are able to minimize the cost associated with prosociality (e.

Hawley and Geldhof. Vermande. agreeable. Palmen. i. 2002. but they have not internalized them in an emotional sense. and morally astute (Hawley. both males and females are well-represented in this group. Most informative to our perspective. females comprise the majority in this group. they are already showing signs of social rejection by their peers. socially perceptive. p 63). Little. humane. intimacy.. and behave well within them (Hawley and Geldhof. Yet. aggression seems to work very well when employed as part of a mixed strategy. males comprise the majority in this group. frank. and even direct this aggression towards their best friends (Hawley. The effectiveness and social savvy of the bistrategic struck us to parallel Machiavelli’s treatise. cf. coercive controllers. we have referred to them as Machiavellian (Hawley. Little. But unlike skilled prosocial controllers. Thus. while being reasonably high in resource control..g. males are attuned to others whereas females are highly aggressive). 2003a. Interestingly. are the individuals who employ both strategies to a high degree. they are much like coercive controllers. and van Aken. 2011. and very well- liked by their peers. morally astute). In stark contrast. This combination. They know and internalize moral norms. unskilled. unlike prosocial controllers. allows bistrategics to manipulate the moral atmosphere to their own advantage (Alexander. see also Baar and Wubbells. They understand moral norms well. 1513/1966. Perhaps not surprisingly. faithful. 2003a. they are as a group very high on traditional measures of aggression. 2012). 2014. 2003a. despite their high levels of aggression. and Card. These “bistrategic” controllers tend to be the most successful at resource control in all age groups. And both genders possess skills typically associated with the opposite sex (e. given the physicality of pure coercion. Mize. Chen and Chang.. fit the stereotypic profile of impulsive. By the age of 5. And because they not only meet their material needs more effectively than all other groups.g.. Hawley. Johnson. extroverted. Evolutionary Psychology – ISSN 1474-7049 – Volume 12(2). 2012). Henrich and Gil-White.b. Ontogeny and social dominance skilled (e.. 2012. 2001). 1987. 2011. -331- . Deković. as a group. in the sense that they embrace all human skills and strategies and can employ them flexibly and in ways that garner some degree of group approval. socially perceptive. and McNamara. On the contrary. 2012). 2003b. however. 2007). Bistrategic controllers contradict views held by the majority that aggression does not pay in the long run because it is associated with social punishment and ostracism. et al. and in contrast to expectations from most theoretical perspectives. 2009). Hawley and Geldhof. They may even enjoy differential reproductive success (Jokela et al. are highly socially competent peer leaders. 2011). Evolutionists and non-evolutionists alike would agree that these individuals. Traditional perspectives have handled these children well and have identified them as needing ameliorative measures. we have generally found bistrategic controllers to possess attributes associated with social skills.e. 9 Thus. they demonstrate relationship skills (e. In this regard. we find bistrategics as rather androgynous behaviorally. while at the same time also meeting their 9 To be supported by your people... and socially repellant aggressors (Hawley. religious” but “preserve a disposition which will make a reversal of conduct possible in case the need arises” (Machiavelli. Consistent with our predictions. Roseth et al. they tend to be extroverted. Perhaps also not surprising. be “… merciful. 2007).g. Hawley. 2007) and are socially attractive to peers (Hawley.

On the flip side. and high on anxiety and withdrawal. non-controlling school children are the gravest clinical significance (Stump et al. the non-controllers are not: They are low on resource control. prosocial strategies are not altruistic.g. Indeed. aggression.e. Non-controllers. Henrich and Gil White. Ontogeny and social dominance social needs of power and affiliation. 2014.. because they clearly do (e. relative competitive ability is less gendered than is commonly thought. aggression (i. lack of resource directedness (and by extension.. Wu. being non-aggressive does not win friends.. these individuals report high levels of material and social goals. 2001) by wielding power aggressively if you also possess social skills to foresee and smooth over potential repercussions. blatantly self-serving strategies) does not unilaterally lead to ostracism. In fact. should not be seen in this light because their payoffs do not appear to be equal to other groups. Bistrategics are fun. Evolutionary Psychology – ISSN 1474-7049 – Volume 12(2). but also not altruistic in the psychological sense.. non-controllers confront ideological views to social competence as well. 2009). 2006. When allowing for variegated strategies. Tybur. innovative.. we have argued that their behavior pattern may represent a type of human social competence (Hawley. females do quite well (Hawley. Thus. Indeed. and explicitly understand the relationships among them (Hawley et al. You can gain positive peer regard (i. 2008. In a sad twist of nature. non-controllers are socially at risk. 2009). different forms can successfully perform different functions). but see Hawley et al.e. and Card. College students simply report that the benefits for associating with someone who can sometimes be a very volatile person outweigh the costs. they reap true benefits for the actor (see also Hardy and van Vugt. 2007).. If there are winners. Ratliff. Stump. 2012). those who use them frequently and effectively. 2009. social status. What does it mean when aggression protects you from failing to thrive? What these profiles reveal about conventional wisdoms First. It is not that the group does not see their aggression. et al.” That is. however.. and know how to get things done. extraversion. -332- . social skills. there must be losers Views stemming from behavioral ecology suggest that multiple strategies can achieve similar average payoffs (i. Hrdy. Little. 2009). Everything the bistrategics are. they are ostracized and victimized by their peers. prestige. 1981/1999). and peer regard. and Van den Bergh. van Vugt and Iredale..e. 2010. i. 2002. participants readily admit that “being nice” to others is the best way to ensure that “others are nice to you.. not only are these behaviors not altruistic in the biological sense. Griskevicius. Bistrategics clearly show this undeniable fact. Johnson. Hawley. Third. They are simply not addressed by this work. Form-focused approaches to social dominance would include only 10 I am not denying the existence of biologically or psychologically altruistic acts. total lack of aggression) appears to be a losing strategy. Second. 10 The self-serving nature of prosocial behavior is mostly keenly understood by prosocial and bistrategic controllers.e. and Hawley. This “niche” is cost-bearing. Moreover.

g. And why wouldn’t we be? The powerful make better friends and alliance partners than the socially subordinate...” “Egalitarianism” may be the exception rather than the rule. Evolutionary Psychology – ISSN 1474-7049 – Volume 12(2). even though these lines of work hold that these structures are distinct from dominance (indeed. and work in developmental circles have documented relationship processes of powerful adolescents (e. Add prosocial controllers to the mix. and Veenstra. autonomous hunter- gatherer groups. Boehm. it is easy to conclude that.e. Gruenfeld. ostracism. Cillessen. Blau.g.” Moreover. 1978). 2003 for review). 2012) or. Dijkstra. friends of powerful individuals become more powerful themselves over time. That is not to say that currying favor from the powerful is cost-free. Both perspectives agree. that is. Lindenberg.. “reverse dominance hierarchy”. and sexually uninhibited than the less powerful (see Keltner. 2008. those who were physically aggressive.. -333- .. Leadership and prestige The present view overlaps significantly with more recent views on leadership (e. Aside from the obvious narrowness of a male-oriented perspective. or corporal punishment) are generally interpreted to mean that humans possess a propensity for egalitarianism (see also chimps: Boehm and Flack. These patterns occur right under our noses at scientific conferences. we seem to be drawn to it even before the age of 3. and Crick.g. if we were “egalitarian” in early human groups. socially inappropriate. but certainly not “all early human societies. van Vugt et al. Cillessen. Henrich and Gil White. then we must be “naturally” egalitarian (or “inherently moral creatures”. intolerant of social dominants. these patterns too appear to be “natural. at the very least. Working RCT into the Theoretical Landscape Reversing the hierarchy The present view does not explicitly call for leveling mechanisms. And so much the better if one can operate with a “veneer” of morality. Boehm himself has stressed that this pattern might be expected within some. 1999) primarily because it does not equate dominance with unbridled aggression.. gossip. and Anderson. 1993) against bullying that have been ethnographically documented (e. that behavior patterns of group members are context specific. counter dominant behavior. as aggressively socially dominant preschoolers already do (Hawley and Geldhof. 2012). Exchange theories in social psychology have illuminated these dynamics (e. Work in the RCT paradigm seems to suggest something quite different. 2010. Ontogeny and social dominance bistrategic and coercive controllers as power holders. p 188). Boehm explicitly added that “egalitarianism” in these model societies does not extend to women and children as a rule.. Gintis. small. Kelley and Thibaut. powerful individuals are more likely to be aggressive. the “antithesis” of dominance because leadership is proposed to be a solution to intragroup conflict caused in part by dominance striving: van Vugt et al. 2012). and a good deal of the “context” is what other group members are doing to access limited resources.. 2014.g. and the gender representation equalizes. When aggression is mitigated with social skills. 2001). Marks. however.. 2010). or normative strategies that function to equalize the hierarchy (i. These leveling behaviors (i.g. Here. In any case.e. However. Boehm. 2008) and prestige (e. 1964.

that it is not necessary or even desirable (Hawley. 1988. attachment. with benefits of its own. and being clear about the difference between psychological and evolutionary egoism. many of the phenomena highlighted by the leadership literature have been documented in rudimentary form in animals (e. social learning) are presumed to underlie change over time.g. 2002. Hawley and Little 2003. Developmental processes (e. (1976). 175). Received 27 August 2012.g. for example. 1999). 1982a. A. maintaining cohesion. Raven and French. Again. R. et al.). it has long been known that socially complex species with protracted developments “work” their hierarchies with variegated strategies (Byrne and Whiten. however. -334- . P. These strategies are especially complex in humans (e. The social structure of Evolutionary Psychology – ISSN 1474-7049 – Volume 12(2)..g. 2014.b. 1981/1999). Accepted 02 July 2013 References Abbot. Ontogeny and social dominance leadership. is viewed as a group resource having evolved in response to pressures for group coordination and conflict resolution. Inclusive fitness theory and eusociality. These bodies of work will most certainly find more points in common than in conflict. Accordingly. 2008. instead. I have made the case elsewhere. Revision submitted 11 March 2013. 1999). p 188) because it does not equate dominance with coercive domination. Revision submitted 02 July 2013. p. are exceptional at achieving their own goals while simultaneously supporting the goals of others. group coordination. Conclusions Many authors have long recognized a dualism inherent to human nature. Hrdy.g. The present evolutionary view sees this tension as a result of competitive processes inherent to natural selection giving rise to both antagonistic and other-regarding behavioral strategies.. Abramovitch. Larsen (Eds. R... 1958) and undoubtedly include behaviors we would call leadership (Hawley.. we can bring central human social dynamics and hierarchical structures into clearer focus. conflict management). (2011). it may be necessary to develop separate theories for leadership (a gentler style of command than coercion) in humans and social dominance in animals. Chance and R. the dominance literature has never found subordinance to be a “riddle” as the leadership work has “followership” (cf. RCT holds them to be “two sides of the same coin” (Hawley. Drea. pure psychological egoism or pure self-sacrifice). 1996. van Vugt et al. 2008). R. Moreover. de Waal. I believe that the distinction relies on the overly narrow view of social dominance as aggression. The relation of attention and proximity to rank in preschool children. 471.. a tension between self and other which is insufficiently solved by attending solely to the self or solely to others (e. E1-E4. competence recognition. In fact. Kyl-Heku and Buss. the present view does not hold dominance to be “the antithesis of leadership” (van Vugt et al. As mentioned above. Nature. 2005. In M.. nor does it see coercion as an “opposite” to prosociality. By being mindful of the important distinction between form and function and their interrelationships.. initiating group action. driving strategies to higher levels of sophistication and subtlety. Prosocial strategists. In the end.

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