The Ontogenesis of Social Dominance: A Strategy-Based Evolutionary Perspective

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Social dominance results when members of a social group vary in their ability to acquire resources in the presence of others (i.e., compete). Traditional approaches to social dominance often emphasize coercive behavior, but nonetheless suggest that dominant individuals are socially central (e.g., watched, attractive social partners). These patterns, however, apply to humans only up to a certain age. This apparent discontinuity may give the false impression that social dominance is less relevant to human social organization than it is to animal social organization. This paper reintroduces the ethological concept of social dominance, but reinterprets it from a strategy-based perspective. That is, if social dominance is defined as differential ability to control resources - without reference to how this is done - then children evidently employ different strategies to compete with peers (e.g., coercive and prosocial). Furthermore, the type of strategy children employ and peers' responses to it depend largely on the ages of the children. By adopting a strategy-based approach to social dominance and explicitly incorporating developmental processes and uniquely human capacities, human social dominance patterns appear to be more similar to primate patterns than commonly believed. Implications for social competence, peer relationships, and the development of the self are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-132
Number of pages36
JournalDevelopmental Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1999


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