Life-History Calibration of Social Hierarchies: Childhood Adversity Predicts Leadership Preference through Relational Social Investment

Published: 15 September 2021| Version 1 | DOI: 10.17632/ns8by9z5g6.1
Nan Zhu,


One way to understand leadership styles in human society is through the lens of followers’ preferences. From a life-history perspective, followers from different backgrounds might develop different psychological traits and social connections that are compatible with the type of future environments that they would expect from childhood experiences. This psychosocial life-history profile of the follower, representing different domains of fitness investment, predisposes them to preferences for dominance-style or prestige-style leadership. The current research tested multiple aspects of followers’ life-history profile as potential mediators between childhood adversity and leadership preferences in hypothetical scenarios in two studies using multiple-site samples in Mainland China. Study 1 (N = 898) focused on childhood economic conditions (controlling for current economic conditions), whereas Study 2 (1,233) examined childhood resource insecurity and negative life events as independent indicators of childhood adversity and controlled for social dominance orientation and power distance orientation. Results showed that the association between childhood adversity and preferences for dominant (rather than prestigious) leaders was mediated by relational social investment, but not intellectual development investment, long-term reproductive investment, or generalized social investment.



Social Psychology, Evolutionary Psychology, Leadership