Evolutionary theory and political leadership: Why certain people do not trust decision makers

Kevin B. Smith, Christopher W. Larimer, Levente Littvay, John R. Hibbing

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Central to social systems are the attitudes of the rank and file toward those who make political decisions (leaders), and attitudes toward leaders are known to be characterized by two fundamental features. First, the modal attitude is acceptance of the necessity of leaders coupled with acute aversion to leaders who are believed to be motivated by ambition and avarice; second, people are highly variable with some being markedly more sensitive than others to the traits of leaders. But the theoretical basis for these empirical facts has yet to be fully elucidated. In this article, we offer such a theory by drawing on biological evolution and then, using a series of laboratory experiments, provide an empirical test of it. Results are fully consistent with evolutionary theory in showing that people are indeed generally sensitive to leadership traits threatening to the larger group even as certain, expected individuals are a good deal more sensitive than others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-299
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Politics
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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