Why is it that many people are so driven to ascend their group’s hierarchy? What causes some high-ranking people, more than others, to selfishly wield their power in ways that undermine their group? How does the motivation to maintain one’s place in the hierarchy sway leaders’ decisions and affect the way they treat their subordinates? Answers to those questions have profound implications for organizations and the people who comprise them. Finding those answers is a central aim of my work.
At a broad level, my research leverages theory and methods from social psychology and evolutionary biology to examine the proximate, motivational aspects of adaptive social cognition and behavior. The recent focus of my work has been to explore the fundamental motives underlying the way people behave in social hierarchies. I examine the downstream behavioral consequences of those motives and pinpoint some of the specific cognitions, emotions, and hormonal processes that those motives elicit. Moreover, I conduct experiments to uncover how key contextual factors influence whether a person’s motives give rise to prosocial behavior or antisocial behavior.