Journal of Organizational Behavior

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Volume 27 Issue 2 (March 2006), Pages 111-255

Resource context contestability and emergent social structure: an empirical investigation of an evolutionary theory (pages 221-239)


Using evolutionary theory as its underlying perspective this research explores the relationship between evolved social behaviors; specifically emergent social structures, and the ecology of the social group; specifically the contestability of the resource context. Contexts where resources are clustered, predictable, and visible, and where consumption is delayed are highly contestable. When resources are dispersed, unpredictable, and concealed and consumption is immediate the context is less contestable. In our ancestral environment this variation in resource context posed differing adaptive problems for the formation and maintenance of social groups. Different social structures evolved to solve these different problems. The relationship between contestability of the resource context and emergent social structure was tested in an experiment employing 114 subjects over 21 trials. Individuals operating in a low contestable resource context perceived a more egalitarian, hedonic‐like social structure; those functioning in a high contestable context reported experiencing a more hierarchical, agonic‐like social structure. These findings support the theory that our response to social situations is determined by an endogenous component, our evolved human nature, in combination with an exogenous component, the character of the ecology within which the group forms and functions. While the endogenous component is a product of the evolutionary process and largely beyond the influence of management, the ecological component, the perception of the resource context can be affected by managerial action. Implications for researchers and managers, and areas for continued investigation are explored. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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