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DOI 10.1007/s12110-015-9227-6

Competence and the Evolutionary Origins of Status

and Power in Humans

Bernard Chapais 1

# Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Abstract In this paper I propose an evolutionary model of human status that expands
upon an earlier model proposed by Henrich and Gil-White Evolution and Human
Behavior, 22,165–196 (2001). According to their model, there are two systems of status
attainment in humans—“two ways to the top”: the dominance route, which involves
physical intimidation, a psychology of fear and hubristic pride, and provides coercive
power, and the prestige route, which involves skills and knowledge (competence), a
psychology of attraction to experts and authentic pride, and translates mainly into
influence. The two systems would have evolved in response to different selective
pressures, with attraction to experts serving a social learning function and coinciding with
the evolution of cumulative culture. In this paper I argue that (1) the only one way to the
top is competence because dominance itself involves competence and confers prestige, so
there is no such thing as pure dominance status; (2) dominance in primates has two
components: a competitive one involving physical coercion and a cooperative one
involving competence-based attraction to high-ranking individuals (proto-prestige); (3)
competence grants the same general type of power (dependence-based) in humans and
other primates; (4) the attractiveness of high rank in primates is homologous with the
admiration of experts in humans; (5) upon the evolution of cumulative culture, the
attractiveness of high rank was co-opted to generate status differentials in a vast number
of culturally generated domains of activity. I also discuss, in this perspective, the origins of
hubristic pride, authentic pride, and nonauthoritarian leadership.

Keywords Admiration . Cumulative culture . Dominance . Leadership . Prestige . Pride

The notion of social status refers to an individual’s position in a social hierarchy in

which a higher rank confers various types of advantages, such as power, access to

* Bernard Chapais

Department of Anthropology, University of Montreal, CP. 6128, Succursale Centre-ville, Montreal,
QC, Canada H3C 3J7
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desired resources, privileges, and prestige. The evolutionary importance of status in

humans is supported by several empirical studies reporting positive correlations be-
tween male status and fertility (e.g., Borgerhoff Mulder 1987; Chagnon 1988; Gurven
and von Rueden 2006; Irons 1979; Kaplan and Hill 1985; Smith 2004; von Rueden
et al. 2011). In an attempt to test the predictions of an evolutionary model of human
status, Henrich and Gil-White (2001) conducted a review of the ethnographic literature
and reported that in various domains of activity, from hunting to shamanism, highly
skilled individuals were the object of more admiration, benefited from more privileges,
received more deference, were preferentially imitated by others, and were more
influential even beyond their area of expertise; in short, they had more prestige. They
compared the behavioral manifestations of prestige-based status in humans and dom-
inance status in nonhuman primates and concluded that the two phenomena rested on
different psychologies and resulted from different selective pressures. They thus argued
for the existence of two alternative strategies of status attainment in humans—“two
ways to the top” (Cheng et al. 2013): dominance and prestige, the first route involving
physical intimidation and fear, the other, competence and attraction.
To explain the evolutionary origins of prestige-based status, Henrich and Gil-White
(2001) proposed that attraction to the most competent individuals in any domain
(hereafter experts) emerged with the human cultural capacity and was adaptive in that
it enabled followers to acquire knowledge from the best available models. To ingratiate
themselves to experts, followers would “have evolved to do all sorts of things that
models were already adapted to like or seek in potential interactants, such as being
especially trustworthy, offering all sorts of help without expecting anything in return,
deferring to the model’s judgment, being nice and helpful to the model’s children,
exempting the models from certain obligations vis-à-vis the copier, etc.” (2001:177).
The existence of two alternative strategies of status attainment in humans has since
received support from studies on the emotional underpinnings of status—notably, the
emotion of pride. Tracy et al. (2010) summarize a number of empirical studies which,
taken together, suggest that pride is a Darwinian adaptation serving to enhance social
status through its rewarding effect on the individual. By increasing self-esteem, pride
motivates individuals to strive for achievement, informs them about their own value
and merited status, and informs others about the individual’s status. Tracy et al. (2010)
and Cheng et al. (2010, 2013) summarize the evidence for the existence of two kinds of
pride in humans, which they term hubristic and authentic. The two types appear to
differ in several respects. For example, participants in experimental studies use distinct
clusters of words and subjective feelings to describe each type, e.g., “arrogant and
conceited” in the case of hubristic pride versus “accomplished and confident” in the
case of authentic pride—and they attribute the two types to different causes: e.g., “I
won because I’m great” versus “[I won] because I worked hard” (Tracy et al. 2010).
Endorsing and integrating Henrich’s and Gil-White’s (2001) evolutionary model of
human status, Tracy et al. suggest that hubristic pride “evolved to motivate the
attainment of dominance, a high status that is achieved through force, threat, and
intimidation,” whereas authentic pride “evolved to motivate the attainment of prestige,
a high status that is granted on the basis of demonstrated knowledge, skills and
altruism” (2010:170). Thus the two kinds of pride would be functionally distinct and
result from different selective pressures. I refer to this model as the dual (sensu
dominance/prestige) evolutionary model of human status.
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In this paper I am mainly concerned with the primate origins of human status. I
argue that the distinction between two strategies of status attainment in humans,
dominance and prestige, is fuzzy because dominance itself depends intimately on
competence and confers prestige. I seek to establish that the major components of
human status, including competence, attraction to experts, prestige, power, hubristic
pride, and (possibly) authentic pride, are homologous phenomena between humans and
primates, and that they can be traced back to the competitive and cooperative aspects of
primate dominance. To do so I begin by expanding upon the dual evolutionary model
and highlight five central aspects of human status that, I argue, are also found in other
primates and provide the phylogenetic connections between them. Next I present the
primate evidence about status and power in support of the proposed homologies, and I
propose a sequence for the evolution of human status from its primate background. I
end the paper with a discussion of two implications of the present view: the demise of
primate-like dominance in the course of human evolution and the origins of non-
authoritarian leadership in small human groups.

Expanding upon the Dual Model of Human Status

The hypothesis of a phylogenetic connection between status in humans and other

primates rests on five major aspects of human status, which should have their coun-
terparts and phylogenetic precursors in primates for the hypothesis to be validated. In
humans (and in other primates, as will be argued): (1) dominance is a particular domain
of competence among others eliciting attraction; (2) competence status involves coop-
eration between experts and nonexperts, which explains that experts behave prosocially
and nonexperts are attracted to experts; (3) competence-based status differentials elicit
competition for higher positions in all status arenas; (4) experts in general derive power
from dependence asymmetries between them and others—they exercise dependence-
based (bargaining) power; (5) experts in certain domains are in a position to exercise
two types of coercive power: physical dominance and dependence-based dominance.

Dominance as a Competence Domain

Dominance is defined here as the capacity to exercise coercive power, which in turn
refers to the capacity to orient the behavior of others by undermining, or threatening to
undermine, their welfare and reproductive capacity—this is also the definition given by
Henrich and colleagues (Cheng et al. 2013). In humans the capacity to exercise domi-
nance depends on the acquisition of competence in various domains, in addition to sheer
physical force and fighting ability. Those include, minimally: (1) the abilities involved in
handling weapons efficiently (e.g., speed, anticipation, dexterity); (2) the ability to
control one’s fear, or external signs of fear; (3) the personality traits affecting the capacity
to recruit allies based on ideational arguments; (4) the cognitive abilities involved in
working out efficient tactics of attack, including deception; (5) the various components of
leadership in the conduct of coalitionary raids; (6) the numerous qualities affecting the
capacity to produce, control, or withhold information, resources, or services affecting
others’ welfare; and (7) the traits enabling one to be recognized as someone who can use
nonphysical entities to inflict physical costs (from illness to death) on others.
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Given that it is competence in any of those domains that enables one to exercise
dominance, individuals possessing those skills are attractive and have prestige, like
experts in any other domain. They may certainly intimidate others, but their high levels
of competence simultaneously induce varying levels of admiration, attractiveness, and
prestige. Even “pure” bullies exhibit various skills relating, for example, to physical
prowess, social manipulation, the recruitment of allies, or the control of resources.
Therefore it is unlikely that bullies acquire status through intimidation alone—i.e.,
without prestige. Henrich and Gil-White (2001) argued that “it is possible for humans
to have only . . . [dominance status or prestige status] because the prototypical stimuli
and underlying psychologies are fundamentally different (e.g., Stephen Hawking, for
pure prestige, and a high-school bully, for pure dominance)” (2001:171, italics origi-
nal). But as just argued, this appears unlikely because competence, and hence prestige,
has invaded virtually all domains of activity in humans. In that sense, there is a single
route to status—competence—and status in all human hierarchies, agonistic and
nonagonistic alike, is pervaded by prestige. This is why I refer to the model presented
here as the unitary evolutionary model of human status (Fig. 1), by contrast to the dual
evolutionary model.
If dominance in humans is only one domain of competence among others that elicit
attraction, a highly relevant question regarding the evolutionary roots of status in
humans is whether dominance in nonhuman primates is also a domain of competence
eliciting attraction. I shall argue that it is.

The Cooperative Component of Competence-Based Status

Perhaps the most important idea contained in the dual evolutionary model of human
status is that competence-based status is conferred on experts by group members, rather
than imposed by experts, and hence stems from cooperation between experts and
nonexperts, not from competition between them. Henrich and Gil-White (2001) argued
that followers provide experts with benefits such as deference and privileges, whereas
experts provide followers with knowledge and information. They thus placed the
emphasis on the social learning benefits of attraction to experts and downplayed the
role of concrete benefits such as resources and services, a point I shall return to.
The cooperative character of status must be emphasized. It implies that the compe-
tence of experts is valued by others inasmuch as it translates into the obtention of
commodities or services from experts, and that to experts, competence is useful
inasmuch as it attracts followers and translates into benefits, including power. The
motivation to become competent would thus be indissociable from the motivation to
cooperate. In this view, experts would be motivated to be recognized not only as highly
competent but as valuable social partners who are simultaneously competent and
generous, whether as hunters, warriors, shamans, military chiefs, cooks, teachers, or
entertainers. Several lines of evidence support the view that enjoying high status and
prestige is conditional upon being both competent and generous. First, experts are
expected, if not compelled, to be generous. Such is the case, for example, with good
hunters (Gurven 2004) and with leaders (Boehm 1993; van Vugt 2006), who may be
considered as multidomain experts, as will be argued later. Moreover, the experts
themselves may acknowledge explicitly the connection between their status and its
prosocial dimension—e.g., individuals asked why they want to be shamans despite the
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Competitive component Cooperative component

Emotion Emotion
Hubristic pride Authentic pride

Behavioral components promoted Behavioral components promoted

irrespective of activity domain irrespective of activity domain
Envying others’ competence levels and status Training for competence
Seeking to outrank others Social learning from experts
Seeking to maintain one’s status Success in helping others, generosity

Competence-based status (prestige)

(Domain specific)


Coercive Noncoercive
Passive influence
Obedience to authority

Aggressive Nonaggressive
Physical dominance Bargaining power (leverage)
Dependence-based dominance

Fig. 1 Schematic representation of the proposed unitary evolutionary model of human status

risks associated with the function answer that they do so to help others (Robert
Crépeau, personal communication). Second, experimental and observational studies
show that donations and generosity bring about prestige (Harbaugh 1998a, b) and result
in enhanced reputation and social status in the group (Bird and Smith 2005; Gurven
2004; Gurven et al. 2000; Milinski et al. 2002). Third, experimental studies indicate
that individuals are more generous when they think they are observed, which suggests
that generosity is motivated by social approval and serves to increase one’s reputation
(Bateson et al. 2006; Haley and Fessler 2005; Izuma et al. 2010). Fourth, authentic
pride, as the term was defined previously, is experienced not only in response to
success and accomplishments, but also when helping others, acting altruistically, and
conforming to social norms (Clark 2013; Tracy et al. 2010). Authentic pride thus
reinforces both competence acquisition and prosociality.
Interestingly, from the present perspective, generosity appears to be biologically
grounded. In a series of cross-cultural studies, Aknin et al. (2013) report that humans
around the world experience emotional rewards (higher positive affects) when helping
others financially, and the authors conclude that prosocial spending is a psychological
universal “deeply ingrained in human nature.” In that vein, neuroimaging studies
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indicate that generosity is experienced as pleasurable: donations stimulate the neural

circuitry of reward systems in the same manner that receiving donations does (Fehr and
Camerer 2007; Harbaugh et al. 2007; Moll et al. 2006). Compatible with both sets of
studies (cross-cultural and neurobiological), developmental studies indicate that the
motivation to help others is already present in 18-month-old children (Tomasello 2008;
Warneken and Tomasello 2006). The observation that generosity has biological under-
pinnings suggests that the generosity of experts is only one particular manifestation of
this universal trait, which is ecologically determined by the expert’s top position in a
social hierarchy and associated capacity to exhibit generosity.
Considering the importance of the cooperative and prosocial dimension of status in
humans, the hypothesis of a phylogenetic connection between competence status in
humans and dominance status in primates predicts that high-ranking primates should
behave prosocially with subordinates (in which case they would be motivated by some
phylogenetic precursor of authentic pride) and that subordinates should be attracted to
experts for that reason. I shall present evidence supporting those predictions.

The Competitive Component of Status

The diversity of domains of expertise in humans translates into multiple competence-

based social hierarchies in which one’s position correlates with power and privileges.
The resulting status differentials create incentives to rise in rank by outperforming
others, which in turn creates incentives to maintain one’s rank vis-à-vis potential
challengers. Status acquisition in humans would thus involve two distinct motivational
components: a cooperative and prosocial one sustained by the motivation to become
competent, as argued previously, and a competitive and antisocial component
undergirded by the motivation to outperform others.
To seek a higher position in a competence order, one must experience the winning of
competence contests and achieving higher status as rewarding. In the dual model of
human status hubristic pride is seen as motivating competition for status but is
discussed in relation to the dominance route to status and hence associated with
agonistic contests. In the present unitary model, hubristic pride is seen as motivating
status competition in any domain, from real physical fights to insult contests to
competitive ball games to board games—that is, hubristic pride would regulate
both aggressive and nonaggressive contests. I shall argue that the generalized (cross-
domain) character of hubristic pride in humans derives from the primate moti-
vation for dominance.
Although the focus here is on the emotion of pride (in keeping with the dual model
of human status), other emotions are involved in the regulation of status competition.
These include, minimally, the complementary and opposite-valence emotion of shame
(Fessler 2007), the pain felt when losing a contest or dropping in rank, and hence
motivating, presumably, the maintenance of status, and also envy, the pain associated
with the perception that others have superior characteristics or more success, and
gloating (or schadenfreude), the enjoyment of the failures and losses of others (e.g.,
Takahashi et al. 2009).
Figure 1 illustrates the idea that competence-based status involves two motivational
components at work in all status arenas: a cooperative component supported by
authentic pride and a competitive component supported by hubristic pride. If human
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status derives from primate dominance, one expects primate dominance to exhibit the
phylogenetic precursors of both components. I shall argue that this is indeed the case.

Expertise and Dependence-Based Power

The relation between competence, status, and power, and the exact nature of power
exercised by experts, are not central issues in the dual evolutionary model of human
status, but they are crucial for understanding the primate origins of human status. As
argued by Henrich and Gil-White (2001), expertise provides a noncoercive form of
power. Followers may freely defer to experts; they may emulate them, adopt their ideas,
grant them privileges, and so on, in which case experts passively exert influence over
followers. I refer to this type of power as passive influence. In fact, passive influence
may be at the origin of another, more active form of noncoercive power. The step is
small indeed between passively conforming to the opinion of experts and conforming
to their wishes, which is obeying them. The difference lies in experts voicing their
wishes or spelling out directives. Arguably, passive influence may have set the stage for
the phenomenon of obedience to authority (where authority means expertise), in which
obedience does not rely on the threat of punishment, but on the recognized competence
of experts. Obedience to authority, induced noncoercively, has been repeatedly dem-
onstrated ever since Milgram’s (1974) famous experiments (see Blass 1999 for a
review). The suggestion here is not that passive influence necessarily translates into
obedience to authority, but that the psychology of passive influence, based on the belief
that because experts are competent they are right, was an evolutionary prerequisite for
obedience to authority.
Passive influence and obedience to authority stem from the cooperative nature of
relationships between experts and nonexperts. More specifically, they reflect the exis-
tence of asymmetries in the degree to which experts and nonexperts are dependent on
each other for satisfying their respective needs. Dependence asymmetries generate
dependence-based sources of power. The ideas developed here are derived from the
work of dependence-power theorists (Blau 1964; Emerson 1962) and were discussed
elsewhere in relation to the evolutionary origins of human power (Chapais 1991). The
services experts are in a position to offer may be intrinsically more valuable than the
services nonexperts may furnish in return, if only because experts are the best in their
domains. An expert may also be the only individual capable of providing specific types of
services (e.g., curing illness). In both situations there is an asymmetry in dependence
between experts and nonexperts. Equally important, if the services provided by an expert
have a zero sum character (i.e., if one follower gains from the expert, another loses), all
followers must seek to secure the expert’s preference or allegiance. As a result, an expert
may withdraw from an exchange with a given follower and favor another one at little cost
to himself, whereas the follower cannot withdraw from the relationship without losing the
unique benefits offered by the expert. In this situation, any follower is dependent on the
expert, but the expert is not dependent on a particular follower. These various sources of
dependence asymmetries entail that experts have much more bargaining power (e.g.,
Bacharach and Lawler 1980) or leverage (the two expressions are used interchangeably
here) than followers and therefore can more easily impose their will.
Importantly, contrary to passive influence and obedience to authority, bargaining
power based on expertise can take the form of coercive power, or dominance, in certain
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circumstances. Dominance was defined as the capacity to undermine the welfare of

others. Therefore, if experts control information, knowledge, services, or resources
affecting others’ welfare, they are in a position to withhold those benefits and exercise
varying levels of coercive power. That power is a dependence-based form of domi-
nance for it stems from dependence asymmetries in the context of cooperative partner-
ships. It differs from physical dominance, which is based on the threat of physical
aggression and reflects only competition. The various types of power granted by
competence are summarized in Fig. 1.
Given the centrality of dependence asymmetries and bargaining power in human
status, a relevant question regarding the evolutionary origins of status is whether
nonhuman primates also exercise dependence-based power in addition to physical
dominance. I shall argue that they do and hence that this broad category of power
originates in primate dominance.

The Dual Power of Experts in Dominance

According to the present model, the exact type of power human experts are in a
position to use depends to a large extent on their domain of competence. Of particular
interest for understanding the evolutionary connection between power in humans and
nonhuman primates is the fact that, in humans, experts in a small category of domains
are in a position to exercise both physical dominance and dependence-based domi-
nance. Such experts are expected to have a high value as potential cooperative partners,
and hence much prestige. This is because, depending on their area of expertise, they are
in a position to grant access to limited and defensible resources, protect lower-ranking
individuals and their kin and other allies against any aggressor, including supernatural
threats, and help them settle disputes and win conflicts. A case in point is shamanism.
Among the Achuars of Peru, for example, the shaman trades his capacity to cure
witchcraft-induced illness for various labor-related tasks performed by the patient’s kin
(Crépeau 1988). The dependence of others on the shaman’s skills grants him bargaining
power, which in this case translates into dependence-based dominance because by
withholding his services he has the power to undermine the physical welfare of others.
Thanks to this capacity he is ostensibly wealthier than other people and has prestige. At
the same time, the shaman is in a position to exercise physical dominance, based on his
acknowledged capacity to induce illness, or kill, and one must take care not to make
him angry (Crépeau 1988). Similarly, expertise in any other domain affecting the
capacity to undermine others’ welfare, from highly specific types of activities such as
wrestling, fencing, or spear throwing to complex, composite activities such as
conducting raids or exercising military leadership, provides both physical dominance
and extremely variable levels of dependence-based dominance.
Importantly for the present phylogenetic argument, I shall argue that high-ranking
primates also cumulate physical dominance and dependence-based dominance. This
means that experts in dominance exercise similar types of power in both humans and
other primates. In many other domains of activities, by contrast, human experts cannot
exercise physical dominance but have varying levels of bargaining power, including
dependence-based dominance. For example, experts in subsistence activities, such as
highly skilled hunters, gatherers, or tool makers, are, in theory, in a position to threaten
to withhold resources from group members and to exercise some levels of dependence-
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based dominance. Experts in still other domains, such as storytelling, dancing, music-
playing, or ball games, are expected to have even less power. They might exercise
passive influence, but relatively little bargaining power, unless others depend on them
for the satisfaction of their primary needs.

Competence and Status: The Primate Baseline

If competence pervades all status arenas in humans, agonistic and nonagonistic alike, a
basic question concerns the evolutionary origins of the relation among competence,
status, and power. There are two general possibilities here. According to the first,
exemplified by the dual evolutionary model of human status, competence-based status
is a uniquely human phenomenon, and our primate heritage is limited to physical
dominance and its motivational underpinnings. Another possibility is that some forms
of competence-based status are already present in nonhuman primates. In the remainder
of this paper I argue that there is evidence supporting this possibility.
A dominance relationship is an enduring state of relative physical power between two
individuals, in which a higher rank grants varying priority access levels to food, territory,
and mates. The multiple advantages conferred by dominance explain why acquiring a
higher rank has become an objective per se—why primates have a motivation for
dominance itself (Chapais 1995). In chimpanzees, for example, the second- or third-
ranking male may challenge the alpha male over a long period of time until he is defeated
(de Waal 1982; Nishida 1983), and in macaques, females are prompt to challenge and
outrank any higher-ranking female that has been experimentally deprived of her allies
and lost her usual assertiveness (Chapais 1992). This testifies to the existence of a
context-dependent motivation to rise in rank whenever opportunities arise.
In earlier work (Chapais 1991) I differentiated between two types of power in
nonhuman primates: aggressive power—the basis of dominance relationships—and
dependence-based power—founded on the control of resources, services, or informa-
tion, and amounting to bargaining power. A concept closely related to dependence-
based power is that of leverage as the term was defined by Lewis: “power based upon
[the control] of inalienable resources” (resources that cannot be taken by force)
(2002:77). Lewis gave the example of estrous female primates who may experience
“advantageous changes in social relationships” without changing rank, presumably
because they have an inalienable commodity: eggs that may be fertilized. Although
Lewis was not explicit about the nature of those advantages, a study on wild orangu-
tans, a highly sexually dimorphic species, illustrates the idea. Van Noordwijk and van
Schaik (2009) reported a consistent pattern of food transfers between adult males and
sexually receptive females in which the female took food from the male’s hand, mouth,
or foot. They noted that sexual associations could end if males refused to share food.
This suggests that males used a tactic of tolerance to get sexual access to females and
that the latter had dependence-based power (leverage) because they could, in theory,
reject a male who did not share food in favor of a male who did, whereas males could
hardly forego mating opportunities without incurring significant costs. As another
example, Stammbach (1988) reported an experiment in which a single subordinate
male long-tailed macaque was trained to use a relatively complex procedure to obtain
food. Once he had completed the task, other animals had access to food. As a result, the
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trained animal received significantly more grooming than before the training, which
suggests that he had leverage independent of his dominance rank.
Lewis (2002) contrasted the two types of power, physical dominance and leverage,
as if they were independent. But as argued here and elsewhere (Chapais 1991), they
need not be, because dominance itself is a source of leverage. Dominance is the
capacity to control a specific category of inalienable resources, namely, the services
that only dominants can offer—efficient protection, decisive support, and tolerance
near monopolizable resources. From that perspective, dominance itself is a domain of
competence (as in humans) and high-ranking individuals are experts having a high
value as potential cooperative partners (Chapais 2006). Discrepancies in rank might
thus create dependence asymmetries and provide dominants with bargaining power, in
which case dominants would be in a position to influence others by threatening to
withhold services or resources—rather than by threatening to attack them
(physical dominance). The fact that high-ranking animals might cumulate both
physical dominance and dependence-based dominance may contribute to
explaining why power asymmetries between dominants and subordinates are
particularly pronounced. Interestingly, because the capacity for dominance varies
along a gradient across individuals, it generates group-wide hierarchies, whereas the
possession of fertilizable eggs does not do so. In theory, the stage is set for
competence hierarchies.
Based on this reasoning I shall argue that dominance hierarchies in primates have
some of the attributes of competence-based (prestige) hierarchies in humans and
therefore that primates have some of the emotional and motivational underpinnings
of competence status, such as a prosocial emotion underlying attraction to high-ranking
individuals. This hypothesis generates three predictions: (1) dominant individuals offer
unique services to subordinates—i.e., services that cannot be obtained from nondom-
inant individuals; (2) as a result, subordinates are attracted to high-ranking individ-
uals—in particular the alpha male and the alpha female—and offer them common (i.e.,
not unique) types of services; and (3) there is a causal relation between the services
offered by dominants and those offered by subordinates—i.e., an exchange of benefits.
All three predictions receive empirical support.
A particularly clear illustration of the capacity of dominant individuals to exercise
decisive favoritism among subordinates (prediction 1) is found in the phenomenon of
bridging alliances—the capacity of a higher-ranking individual to inverse the rank
relations of subordinates. For example, experimental and observational evidence in
Japanese and rhesus macaques show that an adult female, by intervening in the
conflicts of her immature daughters, granddaughters, or sisters, may enable them to
outrank any female ranking below her (the intervener) (Chapais 1992; Chapais et al.
2001); that intermediate-ranking females can maintain their rank above subordinate
females in the presence of unrelated high-ranking females, but not in their absence, and
therefore that they are dependent on the latter (Chapais et al. 1991); that an alpha
female may be instrumental in having her sons outrank all adult males in the group and
become the highest-ranking males (Chapais 1983); and that low-ranking estrous
females forming homosexual consortships with higher-ranking estrous females may
temporarily outrank intermediate-ranking females (Chapais and Mignault 1991). All
such instances exemplify the dependence of lower-ranking individuals upon higher-
ranking ones for obtaining a unique service: effective support determining one’s rank.
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Prediction 2 concerns the attractiveness of high-ranking individuals. Schino (2001)

conducted a meta-analysis of 27 social groups belonging to 14 primate species and
found that females groomed significantly more often up the hierarchy. Other results
supporting predictions 1 and 2 are best discussed in relation to prediction 3, which
causally links the first two predictions. Prediction 3 is the core principle of Seyfarth’s
(1977, 1980) grooming-for-support model in female primates (see also Seyfarth and
Cheney 1984). Seyfarth hypothesized that females groom higher-ranking females as a
way of obtaining agonistic support in return and hence that grooming and support are
part of an exchange of benefits. In a different meta-analysis encompassing 36 studies
carried out on 14 primate species Schino (2007) tested the hypothesis that individuals
who groom frequently also support each other frequently. Because that relation is not
expected to be limited to relationships between females, male-male and male–female
relationships were also included in the analysis. Schino found a significant positive
relation between grooming and support, which held even after controlling for the effect
of the sexual composition of dyads and their degree of kinship. Taken together, the
findings that individuals exchange grooming for support (Schino 2007) and that
grooming is more often directed up the hierarchy (Schino 2001) support the hypothesis
of a rank-related dependence asymmetry between higher-ranking individuals providing
a unique service (efficient support) and lower-ranking individuals providing a non-
unique one (grooming). Those findings suggest that dominants have leverage.
In those studies all instances of support are lumped together so the exact function of
the support given by dominants—the exact nature of their leverage—is not known. One
important function of support may be to help beneficiaries maintain their rank above
lower-ranking individuals; that is to say, a female B might affiliate with a dominant
individual A in order to ensure the latter’s allegiance in the eventuality of a conflict
between herself and lower-ranking individual C. An experimental study on Japanese
macaques supports this hypothesis (Chapais et al. 1995). Rank relations among nine
females were experimentally reversed with the aim of inducing new behavioral patterns
that would reveal the relations between affiliation and support. After the rank reversals
were completed the newly top-ranking females (and formerly lowest-ranking ones)
became by far the most attractive; the newly mid-ranking females competed for
proximity to the top-ranking ones, notably by systematically interrupting the affiliative
attempts of other females toward them; and the top- and mid-ranking females supported
each other against lower-ranking ones.
Support is not the only source of leverage of dominants. Tolerance near
monopolizable food sources is another. Henzi et al. (2003) presented data compatible
with the hypothesis that female baboons groom higher-ranking females in exchange for
tolerance at food sources when ecological conditions favor food competition. In the
same vein, Tiddi et al. (2012) found that tufted capuchin females directed grooming up
the hierarchy and that, when feeding, high-ranking females preferentially tolerated the
proximity of the females from whom they received the most grooming.
Alpha males and females, in particular, may be highly attractive owing to what they
have to offer. For example, in a free-ranging group of rhesus monkeys observed during
the nonbreeding season, the individuals most attractive to adult females in terms of
proximity and grooming given were the alpha female and the five highest-ranking
males (out of 15). Significantly, those five males consistently supported adult females
against lower-ranking males, and all adult females benefited from such support
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(Chapais 1986). As another example, Tiddi et al. (2011) found that in wild tufted
capuchin monkeys, the alpha male was “the most socially integrated male in the group”
and the favorite social partner of high-ranking adult females in proximity networks. In
their review of the literature on relationships between adult females and alpha males in
that species, Tiddi et al. (2011) describe results showing that females associated with,
and preferentially groomed, the alpha male; that the alpha male was the most frequent
provider of support; and that he directed tolerance, food sharing, and protection toward
his potential offspring. They concluded that “females may benefit from associating with
alpha males by increasing the probability of support during conflicts, by gaining access
to food resources, and by decreasing the risk of infanticide” (2011:813). Finally, in a
wild group of chimpanzees, the alpha male was observed to allow lower-ranking males
to mate with females by not interfering in their mating attempts, in exchange for
support by those males (Duffy et al. 2007): the frequency with which the alpha male
interrupted the mating activity of males was inversely related to the amount of support
he received from them. In this example as in the previous ones, the most competent
individual trades a unique service (here, mating rights) for a service that many
individuals may offer (support).
To sum up, all three predictions pertaining to the hypothesis that dominance is a
domain of competence in nonhuman primates and that as such it induces attraction to
experts and procures them bargaining power receive empirical support. This should
certainly not be taken to mean that the attractiveness of high rank and bargaining power
characterize all primate species. In fact, one expects the phenomenon to exhibit a great
deal of interspecific variation. Among the factors expected to generate variation,
besides group composition, are the relative importance of dominance as a factor
affecting access to resources—e.g., dominance relations between females are faint or
absent in some species—and the exact nature of the services dominants are in a position
to offer. What the present review suggests, more modestly, is that a number of primate
species display some of the motivational and behavioral components of competence-
based status and power in humans, and that high-ranking primates may experience
something like proto-prestige. This in turn suggests that those aspects are primitive and
characterized early hominins.

Cumulative Culture and the Expansion of Competence Status

If primates are attracted to high-ranking individuals because they are experts in

dominance, one would expect them to be attracted to experts in other domains affecting
the satisfaction of needs. Empirical evidence on this point, however, appears rather
scanty. The most basic reason for this may be that culture is not cumulative in
nonhuman primates (Dean et al. 2012; Tennie et al. 2009; Tomasello et al. 1993). As
a result, the levels of training required to become competent in any activity are
relatively low and there is little variation in competence levels across individuals; in
short, disproportionately competent individuals—attractive experts—would be few in
other primates, and high-ranking individuals would be prominent among them. That
said, whether competence differentials in activities such as termite fishing, nut crack-
ing, or hunting are pronounced enough to generate attraction to more competent
individuals remains to be fully ascertained. For example, data showing that meat is
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exchanged for support in chimpanzees (Mitani and Watts 2001) and that meat-sharing
results in part from harassment (Gilby 2006) indicate that meat is a valued commodity,
which in turn suggests that expertise in hunting might be attractive and generate
dependence asymmetries, regardless of the possessor’s dominance rank.
The situation is drastically different in humans. In all societies, people practice a vast
number of activities requiring high levels of competence and knowledge to be performed
adequately. Examples are innumerable. In small foraging groups, they include hunting,
gathering, cooking, making tools, telling stories, playing music, dancing, wrestling,
trading, waging wars, dealing with supernatural entities, and so on. The subset of
individuals regularly practicing certain types of activities may be said to belong to the
same competence domain and competence group. In all likelihood, the multiplication of
competence domains in the course of human evolution resulted from the cultural capacity
itself having acquired novel properties that reflected new cognitive abilities—notably, its
cumulative character (Boyd and Richerson 1996; Tomasello et al. 1993) and ideational
content. Domains of activities involving high levels of competence—for example,
complex hunting or gathering techniques in foraging societies—result from the accumu-
lation of knowledge and technical innovations over thousands of generations; they are the
product of history. Correlatively, acquiring competence in any such domain requires long
training periods involving intensive individual and social learning. For example, in
foraging societies, competence in the gathering of extracted resources and in hunting
continues to increase until 35 to 40 years of age (Kaplan et al. 2000). Equally important is
the ideational dimension of culture. Human actions are always embedded in particular
systems of meanings and beliefs shared by the members of a group. Beliefs are
interpretations about the nature of relations among objects, individuals, and events.
Like the realm of formal (behavioral) culture, the phylogenetically more recent realm
of ideation and meaning lent itself fully to cultural innovation and created a vast array of
new domains of competence, from storytelling (e.g., Carroll 2007) to interactions with
supernatural entities (e.g., Boyer and Bergstrom 2008). With the dramatic proliferation of
competence domains in the course of human evolution the stage was set for the expansion
of competence-based status.

The Primate Origins of Attraction to Experts

Within any competence domain and corresponding competence group individuals vary
substantially in their levels of competence. This reflects the sheer complexity of the
corresponding tasks and associated knowledge, as well as differences in talent, learning
abilities, and learning efforts. Humans commonly engage in self-centered social com-
parison (e.g., Corcoran et al. 2011) in which they compare and evaluate themselves to
others. Significantly, they compare others among themselves just as easily. To do so
they engage in what may be described as others-centered social comparison. Humans
discriminate the levels of performance of others along a wide range of criteria and
related scales pertaining to their physical activities (e.g., strength, speed, stamina,
precision, rhythm), the resources and objects they produce (e.g., quantity, solidity,
symmetry, efficiency, taste, ergonomic value), and their qualities as individuals (e.g.,
knowledge, oratory skills, reliability, honesty, diplomacy, courage, humor).
Competence ranking along such criteria, whether implicit or explicit, is commonplace
in humans and constitutes what is perhaps the most basic condition for the existence of
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competence-based status. Differences in competence, however, are not equivalent to

differences in status. Status rankings imply that competence is valuated—that positive
or negative affects are attributed to relative performance levels of others. How, then, did
mere competence differentials evolve into status differentials? The explanation pro-
posed here is that hominins inherited from their primate forebears the motivation to
cooperate with higher-ranking individuals, and that as soon as they evolved the
cognitive abilities required to perceive interindividual differences in competence in
various domains they were motivated to cooperate with the most competent partners, if
this resulted in concrete benefits. This reasoning assumes that the psychology under-
lying attraction to the most competent allies in nonhuman primates was recruited to
motivate attraction to experts in any relevant domain of activities. The present model
thus posits a phylogenetic connection between the attractiveness of high rank in
nonhuman primates and the admiration of experts in humans. The complete evolution-
ary sequence is summarized in Fig. 2.
Admiration belongs to the family of other-praising emotions, such as gratitude (Algo
and Haidt 2009). Admiration is likely a uniquely human phenomenon if only because
admirers attribute thoughts and beliefs to those they admire, which implies a full-blown
theory of mind, which even chimpanzees do not possess (Call and Tomasello 2008).
Nonetheless several aspects of admiration appear to be present in the attractiveness of
high rank. In that vein, Fessler and Gervais (2010) noted that some version of
admiration seems to be present in nonhuman primates when young individuals direct
“obsequious affiliation” (in the form of grooming) to dominants. To provide a prelim-
inary assessment of the hypothesis of a homology between the two phenomena,
Table 1 compares them along ten dimensions. Most appear to be shared. The
main differences relate to the nature of power, which in humans includes
passive influence and obedience to authority, and in the nature of the benefits
of cooperation accruing to nonexperts, which in humans include social learning.
Whether social learning from experts also occurs in other primates in unclear,
but in any case the cognitive processes involved would be different (Dean et al.
2012; Tennie et al. 2009) and hence the magnitude and social impact of social
learning would be much weaker. Table 1 suggests that the numerous similarities
between the attractiveness of high rank in primates and the admiration of
experts in humans are homologous components, whereas the specific attributes
of the human phenomenon are derived components involving uniquely human
cognitive abilities.
The present view has implications regarding the initial adaptive function of attrac-
tion to experts. Henrich and Gil-White (2001) have argued that copying experts (social
learning) was the driving force behind the evolution of prestige status. They proposed
that attraction and freely conferred deference to experts—prestige—evolved with
cumulative culture and in response to selective pressures favoring the acquisition of
information from highly skilled individuals. They contrasted this explanation with an
alternative one according to which attraction to experts evolved as a strategy of
cooperation involving the exchange of concrete benefits (“tangible goods”) between
experts and followers—hereafter, the social exchange explanation. For example, in
prior work I argued that “admiring and contributing to the self-esteem of high-ranking
individuals may be the best way to rise in that hierarchy, or otherwise obtain resources,
services, information, symbolic rewards or emotional gratifications associated with
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Dominance in primates

Competitive component Cooperative component

Motivation for dominance Attraction to high rank
Enjoyment of being attractive

Evolution of cumulative culture and

diversification of competence domains

Generalizaton of attraction to experts through

co-optation of attraction to high rank

Generalization of cooperation between experts and followers

Demise of primate-like dominance
Evolution of nonauthoritarian leadership

Selective pressures for copying experts

Human-like prestige hierarchies

Competitive component Cooperative component

Selective pressures for Selective pressures for
outperforming others in acquiring competence in
all status arenas all status arenas

Evolution of hubristic pride Evolution of authentic pride

through co-optation of through co-optation of
motivation for dominance enjoyment of being attractive
Fig. 2 Schematic representation of the evolutionary history of human status

high ranks” (Chapais 1991:216). Henrich and Gil-White (2001) listed a number of
phenomena that the social exchange account did not explain—for example, that
individuals continue to copy the behaviors and opinions of experts even when the
latter are old and have ceased to produce tangible goods. On this basis they favored the
social learning model to explain the origin of prestige status.
However, the observations that, in other primates, subordinates are attracted to high-
ranking individuals and that dominants and subordinates engage in social exchange
suggest that the attractiveness of high rank is a primitive phenomenon that already
characterized early hominins and hence antedated by far the onset of cumulative
culture. Upon the diversification of competence domains, as just argued, attraction to
and social exchange with dominants would have evolved into attraction to and social
exchange with experts in general. Moreover, the observation that, in nonhuman
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Table 1 Comparison of the attractiveness of high-ranking individuals in primates and the admiration of
experts in humans

Nonhuman primates Humans

Competence asymmetry Yes Yes

Attraction asymmetry Yes Yes
Exchange of concrete benefits Yes Yes
Benefits include social learning from expert No? Yes
Dependence asymmetry Yes Yes
Competence differentials translate into social hierarchy Yes Yes
Spontaneous deference as a means of cooperation Yes Yes
Expert has bargaining power (leverage) Yes Yes
Expert may exercise passive influence No Yes
Expert may induce obedience to noncoercive authority No Yes

primates, dominants may defer to subordinates in order to cooperate with them (as
when male orangutans relinquish food to estrous females) indicates that deference as a
strategy of cooperation is primitive and was presumably used by nonexperts as a way to
cooperate with experts.
Cumulative culture involves uniquely human social learning abilities, including
teaching and the capacity to imitate the exact process and sequence of events leading
to an outcome, rather than just the outcome itself (Dean et al. 2012; Tennie et al. 2009).
This implies that once cumulative culture had evolved, and considering that experts
were already engaged in social exchange with nonexperts, hominins were in a position
to acquire information and knowledge from experts. The social exchange function of
attraction to experts would thus antedate its social learning function and both would be
at work today (Fig. 2).

The Phylogenetic Origins of Pride

Based on morphological similarities between dominance displays in primates and the

nonverbal expression of human pride across cultures, Tracy and her colleagues (Tracy
and Matsumoto 2008; Tracy et al. 2010, 2013) argue that the two phenomena are
homologous and that “hubristic pride evolved from an earlier non-human version of
this facet” (2010:171)—the primate motivation for dominance—and served “to moti-
vate the attainment of dominance, a high status that is achieved through force, threat, and
intimidation” (2010:170). In the present model—and possibly in the dual model as well,
but this is not explicit—hubristic pride motivates status competition in all arenas,
including, for example, real physical fights, staged physical fights (from wrestling
matches to medieval jousts), oratory debates, insult contests, competitive ball games,
athletic contests (from foot races to weightlifting), technological competence contests
(from horse riding to spear throwing), and even board games. The idea that the same
emotion underlies competition in all arenas is compatible with the observation that
competition in activities that do not involve physical contact often elicits aggressive
thoughts and verbal exchanges between rivals and may even end up in actual fights,
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presumably because hubristic pride is derived from the primate motivation for
dominance. Weisfeld and Dillon (2012) similarly argue that, in humans, pride motivates
both aggressive and nonaggressive competition and they provide several arguments
supporting the view that human pride derived from primate dominance behavior.
However, they appear to discard the distinction between hubristic and authentic pride
and lump their respective manifestations.
Authentic pride was described by Tracy et al. (2010) as “promoting a focus on one’s
effort and accomplishments . . ., fostering a sense of humility . . ., and inhibiting
aggression and hostility,” in addition to “pro-social behavior, agreeableness, conscien-
tiousness, and voluntary moral action” (2010:170). Authentic pride would thus support
both the motivation to become competent (e.g., through training and social learning)
and the motivation to use one’s competence to help others. Authentic pride is a self-
conscious emotion involving self-evaluations in relation to external standards (Lewis
2000). For this reason Tracy et al. (2010) reason that it is probably uniquely human.
How, then, did it evolve? Given that they conceive of hubristic pride and authentic
pride as two facets of a single emotion (Cheng et al. 2010; Tracy et al. 2010), one may
infer that, in the dual model of human status, authentic pride too evolved from the
primate motivation for dominance, presumably as a result of interactions with new
cognitive abilities, notably those underlying self-evaluations. Clark (2013) presents as
similar view but is more explicit about it. He conceives of hubristic pride and authentic
pride as two distinct emotions. The first would be homologous in humans and other
animals and would have retained its original function of regulating dominance. The
other would be a duplicate of hubristic pride and would have acquired new functions
following the evolution of new cognitive abilities and new social dynamics, namely,
“cooperation, conformity, and prestige hierarchies.” In Clark’s words, in this novel
sociocognitive context, “pride appears to have been co-opted to occur not merely as a
result of achieving dominance over others, but as a result of aiding others, or
conforming to group norms” (2013:447).
Both views imply that the antisocial emotion underlying primate dominance evolved
into a prosocial emotion, and that the enjoyment of dominating others gave rise to the
enjoyment of helping others. Such a transition is not immediately obvious. The present
model suggests a different and possibly more parsimonious evolutionary pathway.
Authentic pride would derive not from the motivation for dominance, but from the
emotional system regulating attraction to high rank and the motivation of dominants to
cooperate with subordinates (Fig. 2). The attractiveness of high-ranking individuals in
primates is behaviorally manifest in their being disproportionately monitored,
approached, groomed, solicited, and supported, as shown above. If one assumes that
those behaviors are experienced as pleasurable by the recipients, and if a prosocial
emotion such as the enjoyment of being attractive exists in primates, we have a
candidate phylogenetic precursor for authentic pride. The enjoyment of being attractive
would promote behaviors that increase attractiveness, such as taking a side in conflicts
and granting access to defensible resources. Because this emotion would be ultimately
responsible for the capacity of dominants to exercise dependence-based power, it would
be adaptive. The enjoyment of attractiveness is hypothetical; it remains to be fully
investigated and empirically validated, but it appears to be a natural correlate of being
attractive as a dominant, in the same manner that authentic pride is a natural correlate of
being attractive as an expert.
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The Consequences of Competence on Dominance and Leadership

I have heretofore discussed human status as if it reflected competence in a single

domain of activity. Status, however, is obviously a composite, multidomain phenom-
enon. Any individual is involved in several types of activities concurrently, belongs to
several competence groups simultaneously, and occupies a specific competence rank
within each of those. Therefore every individual cumulates several domain-specific
statuses and derives variable amounts of prestige from each of them. Arguably the
amount of prestige associated with expertise varies a great deal across competence
domains and, moreover, the relation between type of expertise and prestige also varies
substantially both across cultural groups and across contexts (e.g., between periods of
war and peace). Nevertheless, from an evolutionary perspective one expects the amount
of prestige enjoyed by experts to be proportional to their capacity to help their fellow
group members satisfy their primary needs, such as nutrition, mate acquisition, and
safety in relation to all types of threats, whether environmental, social, or supernatural.
Accordingly, each competence domain would have a specific index of social value,
with expertise in domains such as subsistence activities, the conduct of war, or
interactions with supernatural entities having on average higher indices than expertise
in, say, storytelling, especially when resources are scarce or intergroup conflicts likely.
By positing this to be the case, and at the risk of oversimplifying a complex issue, we
could obtain the total amount of prestige of an individual in a particular local group, in
theory, by multiplying for each area of competence that individual’s competence rank
by the domain’s index of social value, and summing up those products for all domains.
In theory, similar assessments could be done with power. My aim here is not to enter
into the details of such a calculation, but simply to use the underlying principles to
discuss two major consequences of the expansion of competence domains in the course
of human evolution—namely, the demise of primate-like dominance and the advent of
nonauthoritarian leadership.

The Demise of Primate-like Dominance

In prior work I have argued that the invention of weapons and their systematic use in
human conflicts had a profound impact on primate-like dominance relationships. I was
specifically concerned with the origins of human monogamy under the assumption that
it derived from a prior state of generalized polygyny. By decreasing discrepancies in
intrinsic physical power between males, weapons would have substantially increased
the costs of monopolizing several females simultaneously, leading to a more egalitarian
distribution of females among males (Chapais 2008, 2011, 2013). Weapons, however,
did not eliminate dominance. Rather, they transformed its modalities: from then on,
dominance belonged to those forming larger coalitions, controlling the most efficient
weapons, or employing the best strategies of attack.
Arguably, the evolution of cumulative culture and the diversification of competence
domains had a deeper impact on dominance relationships because it resulted in the
dilution of physical dominance among a large array of sources of power. In primates,
dominance provides both aggressive power and leverage so that in a typical dominance
relationship both types of power are in the hands of the dominant and the power
asymmetry is pronounced. This was presumably the situation among hominins prior to
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the evolution of cumulative culture. By multiplying the sources of status, cumulative

culture must have created many dyadic situations in which physically weaker individ-
uals were more competent than stronger individuals in various domains and, as a result,
had a substantial, and possibly even greater, amount of bargaining power. In concrete
terms, bullies trying to aggressively impose their will on skilled hunters, leaders, or
shamans ran the risk of undermining their own welfare and losing valuable social
partners. Similar situations, in which dominants are dependent on subordinates to
obtain specific services, sometimes occur in primates (as shown above), but in
hominins the phenomenon would have been systematic owing to the sheer diversity
of competence domains. From that perspective, primate-like dominance hierarchies are
not possible in humans because dominance is never the sole source of status between
any two individuals. This obviously does not mean that physically dominant individ-
uals cannot impose their will on subordinates, but it specifies the conditions under
which they can do so—namely, when subordinates are less competent in all other
relevant domains and have no leverage, or when subordinates do have leverage but
dominants succeed in forming larger coalitions, or controlling more efficient weapons.
Those conditions are often met in complex societies, but rarely in small hunter-gatherer
societies (as discussed below), which suggests that during most of human evolutionary
history, physical dominance ceased to be the decisive basis of power within (but not
necessarily between) social groups.

The Origins of Nonauthoritarian Leadership

Another likely consequence of cumulative culture is the prevalence of nonauthoritarian

forms of leadership in small human groups. Boehm (1993, 2012) argued that the
primary (psychological) cause of egalitarian behavior in those societies was intentional
leveling: the dislike of being dominated and the use of means such as ridicule,
disobedience, and sanctions to curb any attempt by leaders to command, dominate,
or abuse power, the upshot being that followers dominate their leaders, a phenomenon
Boehm referred to as a reverse dominance hierarchy. But why is intentional leveling
possible in the first place? Weapons may have played an important role (Woodburn
1982): by equalizing physical power between individuals, weapons made it possible to
dispose of unwanted leaders. But a deeper reason may be that leadership in small
human groups is a particular form of competence-based status and that as such it is
conferred on leaders by followers and can be revoked in certain circumstances.
In small human groups, such as hunter-gatherers, leadership is determined by com-
petence in various domains. Based on a comprehensive survey of the literature, Boehm
remarks that “a good leader seems to be generous, brave in combat, wise in making
subsistence or military decisions, apt at resolving intragroup conflicts, a good speaker,
fair, impartial, tactful, reliable, and morally upright” (1993:233). Each of those traits
involves competence, whether in specific activities (e.g., combat), decisional domains
(e.g., subsistence decisions), or psychological abilities (e.g., oratory, fairness). Similarly,
in a review of the psychological literature on the subject van Vugt (2006) reports that
leadership correlates with initiative taking, intelligence, generosity, and competence in
specific tasks. Leaders are thus multidomain experts, which is to say that leadership is a
particular form of competence status and as such it is revokable by followers. This
principle applies to all status arenas. Individuals are expected to revoke the status of an
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individual who ceases to be recognized as competent or does not meet expectations, for
example because he refuses to cooperate—good hunters are compelled to share their kills
to maintain their status (Gurven 2004). Similarly, followers should revoke the leadership
of an individual who proves not to be competent or fails to meet expectations. Unlike
other experts, leaders are endowed with the power to make decisions, which enables them
to bias decisions in their own favor or in favor of their kin and friends. One thus expects
group members to counter any attempt by leaders to abuse power. In small groups, owing
to subsistence-related factors such as nomadism and the dispersion of resources
(reviewed in Boehm 1993), leaders cannot usually monopolize the means (supporters,
resources, weapons) required to maintain their power. Intentional leveling and non-
authoritarian leadership would therefore fundamentally reflect a basic property of
competence-based status in humans, its revocable character.


I have argued that dominance status in nonhuman primates has two components, a
competitive one involving physical coercion and fear and a cooperative one involving
competence-based attraction (proto-prestige), dependence asymmetries, and bargaining
power. The fact that the two components stem from the same basis—physical domi-
nance—makes it particularly easy to confuse them and limit dominance to its competitive
dimension. Once cumulative culture evolved, the cooperative component of primate
dominance was co-opted to generate a vast number of domain-specific social hierarchies
in which status was granted to experts by group members, rather than imposed by
dominants, and competence was the predominant route to privileges and power. In that
context the competitive component of primate dominance was co-opted to regulate
competition for status within competence-based hierarchies. Henceforward status differ-
entials continuously emerged from cooperation between experts and nonexperts as new
domains of competence were culturally created and, somewhat paradoxically, competi-
tion for status was a consequence rather than the source of status differentials.
In small human groups and hence during the major part of human evolution, status
tended to correlate positively with competence and was, by definition, revocable by
those who granted it in the first place. Varying levels of egalitarianism prevailed. In
retrospect, a revolution in the nature of human politics occurred when cultural evolution
generated situations in which status ceased to correlate with competence and lost its
revocable character.

Acknowledgments I thank Robert Crépeau, Evelyne Gauthier, Kim Hill, Shona Teijeiro, Robert Walker,
and three anonymous reviewers for helpful discussions or comments on the manuscript, and Evelyne Gauthier
for help with the figures.


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Bernard Chapais is a professor of anthropology at the University of Montreal. Having devoted some 25 years
to research on primate behavior, he now focuses on the evolutionary origins of human social behavior in an
attempt to bridge evolutionary anthropology and sociocultural anthropology.