Leadership in Dangerous Times: Life-History Strategy and Environmental Condition Affect Preferences for Dominant and Prestigious Leaders

Published: 21 July 2020| Version 2 | DOI: 10.17632/zbgnrg5w7g.2
Nan Zhu,
, Huijing Lu


Dominance and prestige, as two distinct status-attaining qualities, are present in modern-day leaders at various levels of social hierarchies to various degrees. From an evolutionary perspective, we speculate that the preference of dominant leaders over prestigious leaders is linked to a fast life-history strategy, which is favored in dangerous environments. Three studies tested this speculation. Study 1 consisted of two surveys using a college-student sample (N = 679) and an older-aged sample (N = 193). The results supported an association between self-reported fast life-history strategies and preference for dominant leaders in a series of hypothetical scenarios. Study 2 (N = 67) conceptually replicated this finding using the Implicit Association Test (IAT) technique, showing a weaker implicit link between prestige and positive evaluations among participants with a fast life-history strategy. In Study 3 (N = 95), we manipulated danger using a priming technique before asking participants to indicate leadership preferences in hypothetical scenarios. We found that the association between fast life-history strategies and the preference for dominant leaders was more salient in the danger condition than in a control condition.



University of Macau


Social Psychology, Evolutionary Psychology, Leadership, Life-History Theory