Tuesday, October 27, 2009

evolutionary past determines how leadership is chosen

ScienceDaily | Why did Barack Obama win the US election and did the fact he is over six feet tall influence the voters? In a synthesis of research, published in Current Biology this month, the authors of the paper 'The Origins and Evolution of Leadership' argue that due to 'a hangover from our evolutionary past' factors like age, sex, height and weight play a major part in the determining our choice of leaders.

Author Professor Mark van Vugt, an Associate Member of the Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Oxford, said: 'Traits like height, age, gender, masculinity/femininity, and weight all appear to matter when we vote for our leaders. These are likely hangovers from our evolutionary past -- ancestral leadership prototypes that are context-dependent. When we face particular threats, like war, these elicit particular prototypes, such as the need for a masculine leader. Therefore, leaders who match these ancestral prototypes have a better chance of being elected.'

The article says that although human societies continue to rely heavily on political, economic, military, professional and religious leaders to function effectively, there is a consistently high rate of leadership failure. Nearly three quarters of business failures in corporate America are due to managerial incompetence, the study points out. It asks whether new approaches might be useful in understanding when and why human leadership succeeds and fails -- including Nature's own lessons on what works best in different contexts.

Author Dr Andrew King, from the Zoological Society of London, said: 'Evolution has fashioned principles governing leadership and followership over many millions of years. We need to ground the complex, even mystical, social phenomenon of leadership in science. Through empirical observation, theoretical models, neuroscience, experimental psychology, and genetics, we can explore the development and adaptive functions of leadership and followership. This analysis of data, combined with an evolutionary perspective on leadership, might highlight potential mismatches so we can see how evolved mechanisms of leadership are possibly out of kilter with our relatively novel social Justify Fullenvironment.'