Leadership can evolve even without differences in need or ability


Individuals in groups often differ in their preferred course of action, such as when choosing foraging locations. If they are to stay together they have to find ways to compromise. One solution is to have defined leaders who the other follow. Leaders may be those individuals who have greater need or better knowledge of the options. But it is less clear how some individuals end up consistently leading and why some are happy to always pay the greater costs of following.


This study used evolutionary models with groups of various sizes that were based on the Battle of the Sexes game. In this game, the group members are always better off together but have difference preferences for the what the group does. The model showed that in a game with repeated decisions, there will be evolutionary branching, which means variation in an individual’s tendency to lead or follow. This happens because leaders do best when with lots of followers, but do badly when with lots of other leaders because they do not coordinate. There tended to be more extreme leaders and followers when groups were larger; smaller groups results in intermediate individuals too.


The model shows that the need to coordinate can result in the consistent leadership and followership, in the absence of any differences in need or knowledge. The model predicts that there will be more coordination when groups have a common interest, which is seen in some empirical studies of fish. Lower levels of conflict leads to fewer leaders, but a group of followers will tend to end up all doing the preference of a random member. Leadership is a risky option is that leaders either get the group to all choose their option, or end up going it alone (which has small benefits). This might be why leadership and other ‘risky’ personality traits such as extraversion are associated in humans and other animals.


Behavioural ecology

Subject Group

Zoology and Ecology




game theory



Posted by


on Sun Oct 22 2017

Article ID


Details of original research article:

Johnstone RA, Manica A. Evolution of personality differences in leadership. PNAS. 2011;108:8373-8378.

Preceded by:

Great decision accuracy can be achieved by groups through individuals having local interactions without communication

Posted by: AndrewDHigginson Posted Fri Nov 10 2017


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