When and Why Power Corrupts

An Evolutionary Perspective

Authored by: Charleenn R. Case , Jon K. Maner

Handbook on Evolution and Society

Print publication date:  January  2015
Online publication date:  November  2015

Print ISBN: 9781612058146
eBook ISBN: 9781315634203
Adobe ISBN: 9781317258339


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Leaders play a critical role in helping their groups achieve important goals. Sometimes, however, leaders are more interested in their own personal capacity for power than they are in helping their groups succeed. This chapter describes recent evolutionary theories and research aimed at elucidating the situational and motivational factors that influence the behavior of leaders. Drawing from findings observed in nonhuman primates as well as those in humans, the chapter describes how human motivations for elevated social rank are similar to and different from those of our closest extant relatives. The chapter also reviews recent research documenting common situations that occur in both humans and other primates that might set the stage for negative leadership behaviors, as well as specific strategies leaders use to minimize threats to their power. The chapter closes by discussing promising avenues for future research aimed at applying an evolutionary perspective to understand leadership. An evolutionary perspective provides valuable conceptual tools for understanding both the constructive and destructive aspects of leadership behavior.

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