Dominance, prestige, and the role of leveling in human social hierarchy and equality.
AbstractHow humans and other social species form social hierarchies is one of the oldest puzzles of the behavioral and biological sciences. Considerable evidence now indicates that in humans social stratification is principally based jointly on dominance (coercive capacity based on strength, threat, and intimidation) and prestige (persuasive capacity based on skills, abilities, and knowledge). Although intimidation can beget compliance, hierarchical relationships based on dominance are relatively less stable. Here, I consider the costs and benefits of each form of hierarchical structure for high-ranking and low-ranking individuals, and propose that humans have evolved a tolerance for stratification based on prestige and a resistance towards coercive dominance. In humans (and other social primates), anti-dominance instincts often escalate into large-scale coordinated leveling efforts to suppress the power of coercive aggrandizers. By contrast, prestige, which produces mutually beneficial outcomes with followers, is recognized and widely endorsed.