LEADERSHIP, PRESTIGE, AND SOCIAL LEARNING ACROSS TRADITIONAL SOCIETIES
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Evolutionary approaches to leadership are reinvigorating and unifying a diverse field. Influential evolutionary theories in anthropology have increasingly linked human leadership with prestige and social learning. Until very recently, many such theories have been inadequately supported with evidence from traditional societies. Evolutionary anthropologists often rely on a broad range of evidence. Recent advances in genetics and emerging views of leadership in nonhuman species provide an opportunity to revise existing theories. An extensive review of evidence and theories on leadership, prestige and social learning suggested informational-based leadership – a form of “prestige” – occurs across diverse taxa; cumulative, complex culture may be uniquely human, but prestige-based leadership is not. Using the electronic Human Relations Area Files (eHRAF) social learning in the ethnographic record among hunter-gatherers was assessed. Results suggested oblique and vertical transmission appear at similar rates and various forms of teaching are the most common processes of social learning. Vertical and oblique social learning are predominantly characterized by teaching, whereas horizontal social learning is primarily through collaborative learning. Approximations of age reveal a developmental pattern in which social learning of miscellaneous skills characterizes infancy, subsistence skills dominate childhood, and the social learning of religious beliefs are most frequent during adolescence. A novel field study revealed similarities between male and female elected leaders in a small-scale, egalitarian society, with the exception of aggressiveness which characterized male leaders but seemed to preclude women from leadership positions. This study also provided the first test of the prediction that prestigious leaders should be the target of biased social learning; results suggested a measure of biased social learning is only a modest predictor of leader status but was a strong predictor of being respected. Evolutionary frameworks of leadership should account for the full range of human cultural diversity. Collectively, these works highlight the importance of incorporating evolutionary approaches into leadership studies generally and provide novel systematic results from traditional societies relevant to existing theoretical models on leadership, prestige, and social learning.