cSCAN Rounds

The evolution of human social status: Testing models of prestige and dominance

An influential theory in the evolutionary human sciences posits that humans have two distinct pathways for attaining social status. Dominance, shared with other social species, is status acquired by coercion, threat, fear or resource-control. In contrast, prestige is argued to be uniquely human, and derives from our extensive reliance on social learning. Prestige is acquired by knowledgable or skilful individuals, when others voluntarily defer to them in order to gain access to and learn their valuable knowledge or skill. I will present the results of a series of empirical studies from my lab that have tested various aspects of this theory. This includes whether dominance and prestige are indeed distinct routes to social status, whether prestige (but not dominance) is associated with superior knowledge, whether people preferentially learn from prestigious (but not dominant) individuals, and whether there is any validity to recent claims that certain political leaders (e.g. Donald Trump) have acquired status and influence via dominance rather than prestige.