Life-history calibration of social hierarchies: Childhood adversity predicts leadership preference through relational social investment

Nan Zhu, Bin Bin Chen, Hui Jing Lu, Lei Chang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


One approach to understanding leadership styles in human society is through the lens of followers' preferences. From a life history perspective, followers from different backgrounds may develop different psychological traits and social connections that are compatible with the type of future environments that they expect following childhood experiences. This psychosocial life-history profile of the follower, representing different domains of fitness investment, predisposes them to preferences for dominance-style or prestige-style leadership. We tested multiple aspects of followers' life-history profiles as potential mediators between childhood adversity and leadership preferences in hypothetical scenarios in two studies using multisite samples in Mainland China. Study 1 (N = 898) focused on childhood economic conditions, and Study 2 (N = 1233) examined childhood resource insecurity and negative life events as independent indicators of childhood adversity. The results indicated an association between childhood adversity and a preference for dominant (rather than prestigious) leaders that was mediated by indicators of relational social investment but not by indicators of intellectual, long-term reproduction, or generalized social investment. This finding represents a new direction for research into leadership preferences as well as the application of life-history theory to social psychology.

Original languageEnglish
Article number111482
JournalPersonality and Individual Differences
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


  • Childhood unpredictability
  • Dual model of leadership
  • Early adversity
  • Leadership style
  • Life history calibration
  • Somatic efforts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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