Hypothesis & Theory ARTICLE

Front. Hum. Neurosci., 03 June 2014 | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00363

The evolution of leader–follower reciprocity: the theory of service-for-prestige

  • 1Department of Psychology, School of Social Sciences, Brunel University, Uxbridge, UK
  • 2Faculty of Psychology and Education, VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • 3University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

We describe the service-for-prestige theory of leadership, which proposes that voluntary leader–follower relations evolved in humans via a process of reciprocal exchange that generated adaptive benefits for both leaders and followers. We propose that although leader–follower relations first emerged in the human lineage to solve problems related to information sharing and social coordination, they ultimately evolved into exchange relationships whereby followers could compensate leaders for services which would otherwise have been prohibitively costly for leaders to provide. In this exchange, leaders incur costs to provide followers with public goods, and in return, followers incur costs to provide leaders with prestige (and associated fitness benefits). Because whole groups of followers tend to gain from leader-provided public goods, and because prestige is costly for followers to produce, the provisioning of prestige to leaders requires solutions to the “free rider” problem of disrespectful followers (who benefit from leader services without sharing the costs of producing prestige). Thus service-for-prestige makes the unique prediction that disrespectful followers of beneficial leaders will be targeted by other followers for punitive sentiment and/or social exclusion. Leader–follower relations should be more reciprocal and mutually beneficial when leaders and followers have more equal social bargaining power. However, as leaders gain more relative power, and their high status becomes less dependent on their willingness to pay the costs of benefitting followers, service-for-prestige predicts that leader–follower relations will become based more on leaders’ ability to dominate and exploit rather than benefit followers. We review evidential support for a set of predictions made by service-for-prestige, and discuss how service-for-prestige relates to social neuroscience research on leadership.

Keywords: leadership, followership, reciprocity, collective action, evolutionary psychology, social status, dominance, prestige

Citation: Price ME and Van Vugt M (2014) The evolution of leader–follower reciprocity: the theory of service-for-prestige. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 8:363. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00363

Received: 19 March 2014; Accepted: 13 May 2014;
Published online: 04 June 2014.

Edited by:

Carl Senior, Aston University, UK

Reviewed by:

Oliver Scott Curry, University of Oxford, UK
Christopher Von Rueden, University of Richmond, USA

Copyright © 2014 Price and Van Vugt. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Michael E. Price, Department of Psychology, School of Social Sciences, Brunel University, Uxbridge, London, Middlesex UB8 3PH, UK e-mail: michael.price@brunel.ac.uk

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