Ontogeny and Social Dominance: A Developmental View of Human Power Patterns

Developmental science has long evolutionary roots and has historically focused on individual differences. Accordingly, developmental models can inform conversations about phylogeny and personality. The present paper evokes life history theory to describe a theoretical model of competitive behavior that applies to both children and adults (resource control theory: RCT). The model suggests that prosocial and coercive behavior, though different in manifest form, serve similar evolutionary functions. Accordingly, RCT presents a view on social dominance that gives primacy to function over form that contrasts sharply from traditional views.  This reformulation gives rise to novel questions (both developmental and non-developmental) and challenges long accepted views on prosociality (e.g., that it is altruistic) and aggression (e.g., that it is maladaptive). Similarly, RCT gives rise to a minority perspective that aligns aggression with social competence.

Many authors have long recognized a dualism inherent to human nature; a tension between self and other which is insufficiently solved by attending solely to the self or solely to others (e.g., pure psychological egoism or pure self-sacrifice). The present evolutionary view sees this tension as a result of competitive processes inherent to natural selection giving rise to both antagonistic and other-regarding behavioral strategies. Developmental processes (e.g., attachment, social learning) are presumed to underlie change over time, driving strategies to higher levels of sophistication and subtlety. By being mindful of the important distinction between form and function and their interrelationships, and being clear about the difference between psychological and evolutionary egoism, we can bring central human social dynamics and hierarchical structures into clearer focus.


About Giorgio Bertini

Research Professor. Founder Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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