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IACM 2023

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Banding Together To Avoid Exploitation: Dominant (but Not Prestige-Based) Leaders Motivate Collective Moral Opposition From Followers

Although dominance is a common strategy for attaining high social rank, it often entails exploitative behavior, bringing leaders into conflict with followers. Anthropological work suggests that a long evolutionary history of such conflict has set the stage for moral systems designed to reduce exploitation from powerful people. Here we establish links between dominance (and prestige) and moral leadership, reporting three studies (total N = 1246) demonstrating that, in response to dominant leaders, followers band together in collective opposition aimed at resisting, and even toppling incumbent leaders. These studies also identify specific social psychological pathways through which dominant leaders elicit moral opposition – low levels of trust and gossip both mediated effects of leader dominance on collective opposition by followers. While dominance may allow people to rise through the ranks of a social hierarchy, the long-term durability of dominance as a leadership strategy may be undermined by collective moral opposition from followers.

Richard Ronay
University of Amsterdam Business School

Janneke Oostrom
Tilburg University

Minnie She
University of Amsterdam Business School

Jon Maner
Florida State University
United States


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