Mark van Vugt


Phone: +31 (0) 20 5985323
Room: 1B-29

Personal webpage

For a complete list and fulltext access to my publications, see VU Metis or my personal website.

Selection of recent projects

Leadership, evolution and hormones

My main line of research is on the evolutionary origins, functions, and psychological processes underlying leadership and followership. In one project we look at the facial cues of leadership perception. For instance, when do individuals prefer to follow a dominant looking leader? In another project we look at the evolved function of charismatic leadership. For instance, why do charismatic leaders inspire followers and through which cognitive mechanisms do they exercise influence? In a third project we look at the role of testosterone and cortisol in predicting leadership behaviors. Finally, I am interested in the social memory of leaders versus followers.

Intergroup relations and the male warrior hypothesis

In another line of research I am looking at the evolutionary psychology of intergroup relations. Our research suggests that there is a gendered intergroup psychology, meaning that men and women differ in their evolved social psychologies for intergroup relations (due to different selection pressures operating on men and women in the past). For instance, why are men more aggressive towards outgroups than women -- the male warrior hypothesis? Do ingroup members respond differently to male and female outgroup members?

The evolutionary psychology of sustainability

I am working on a few projects regarding the psychology of the environment. In one line of research we are looking at the effectiveness of psychological interventions to foster sustainability such as kinship, reputations, and social norms. In another project we are looking at the effects of green schoolyards on children’s cognitive and social development.

Theoretical evolutionary psychology: Mismatch, multilevel selection, niche construction, sexual selection, costly signaling

This is largely a theoretical project in which I try to understand the importance of evolutionary theories such as sexual selection, multilevel selection, mismatch, and niche construction as explanatory frameworks for understanding how humans behave in groups. These concepts have great potential to understand key social questions such as how contraceptives influence mate choice, why groups are more competitive than individuals, why people behave unsustainably, and why leadership and governance programs fail in modern organizations.


I studied social and organizational psychology at the University of Groningen (1985-91), followed by a PhD in applied social psychology at the University of Maastricht (1991-96) during which I worked on research into environmental sustainability using models from social dilemma and game theory. After receiving my PhD, I was hired by the University of Southampton, UK, as a lecturer in psychology (1995-2004), followed by a professorship in 2004 at the University of Kent, UK (2004-9). Since 2009 I hold a professorship in Evolutionary Psychology, Work and Organizational Psychology at the VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands. I have affiliate positions at the University of Oxford (Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology) and the University of Kent (Centre for the Study of Group Processes). My research has received funding from grant agencies such as NWO and ESRC, from charities such as Leverhulme, and from private partners such as LTP Business Psychologists.

Research interests

My particular interest and expertise lies in the fields of evolutionary psychology and social- organizational psychology. I am interested in how insights from evolutionary theory can explain group and organizational processes such as leadership and followership, status and power, altruism and cooperation, and intergroup conflict. Together with colleagues we are using a range of innovating methodologies from experimental psychology, social neuroscience, and behavioral economics to test evolutionary psychology hypotheses about human social behavior. I also have a keen interest in applied research – inspired by evolutionary theory -- to understand and tackle societal challenges regarding management and governance, economics and finance, health and poverty, charity, and environmental sustainability.


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Recent publications

No publications could be retrieved.

L Van der Meij, J Schaveling & M van Vugt (2016) Basal testosterone, leadership and dominance: A field study and meta-analysis. Psychoneuroendocrinology 72, 72-79
T Castelain, V Girotto, F Jamet, H Mercier, B Tarr, J Launay, RIM Dunbar & ... (2016) Official Journal of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society. Official Journal of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society 37 (5)
RE de Vries, JM Tybur, TV Pollet & M van Vugt (2016) Evolution, situational affordances, and the HEXACO model of personality. Evolution and human behavior
A Grabo & M van Vugt (2016) Charismatic leadership and the evolution of cooperation. Evolution and Human Behavior1
LS Peck (2016) A cold limit to adaptation in the sea. Trends in ecology & evolution 31 (1), 13-267
JE Smith, S Gavrilets, MB Mulder, PL Hooper, C El Mouden, D Nettle & ... (2016) Leadership in mammalian societies: emergence, distribution, power, and payoff. Trends in ecology & evolution 31 (1), 54-664
S Gavrilets, J Auerbach & M van Vugt (2016) Convergence to consensus in heterogeneous groups and the emergence of informal leadership. Scientific Reports 6
ACY Yeung & JS Richardson (2016) Some Conceptual and Operational Considerations when Measuring ‘Resilience’: A Response to Hodgson et al.. Trends in ecology & evolution 31 (1), 2-32
C Von Rueden & M Van Vugt (2015) Leadership in small-scale societies: Some implications for theory, research, and practice. The Leadership Quarterly 26 (6), 978-9902
M Van Vugt & AE Grabo (2015) The Many Faces of Leadership An Evolutionary-Psychology Approach. Current Directions in Psychological Science 24 (6), 484-4891
H Rusch, JM Leunissen & M van Vugt (2015) Historical and experimental evidence of sexual selection for war heroism. Evolution and Human Behavior 36 (5), 367-3734
M van Vugt & JM Tybur (2015) The Evolutionary Foundations of Status Hierarchy. The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology
BR Spisak, MJ O'Brien, N Nicholson & M van Vugt (2015) Niche construction and the evolution of leadership. Academy of Management Review 40 (2), 291-3068
T Kameda, M Van Vugt & RS Tindale (2015) Groups. Evolutionary Perspectives on Social Psychology, 243-2531
P Barclay, M Van Vugt, A Schroeder & WG Graziano (2015) The evolutionary psychology of human pro-sociality: adaptations, byproducts, and mistakes. The Oxford Handbook of Prosocial Behavior, 373
M Van Vugt & JM Tybur (2015) The evolutionary foundations of hierarchy: Status, dominance, prestige, and leadership. The handbook of evolutionary psychology (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley 10 ...2
JI Krueger, AT Smith, YE Wang, PAM Van Lange, D Balliet, CD Parks & ... (2014) Victory Over Tragedy. The American Journal of Psychology 127 (4), 540-543
BR Spisak, AE Grabo, RD Arvey & M van Vugt (2014) The age of exploration and exploitation: Younger-looking leaders endorsed for change and older-looking leaders endorsed for stability. The Leadership Quarterly 25 (5), 805-81614
BC Bowles, M Ghiselin, J O’Connell, P Richerson, J Silk, P Spikins & ... (2014) Zoon Politikon: The Evolutionary Origins of Human Political Systems Herbert Gintis, Carel van Schaik, and Christopher Boehm.
ME Price & M Van Vugt (2014) The evolution of leader–follower reciprocity: the theory of service-for-prestige. Frontiers in human neuroscience 8, 36332

View full list of publications on Google Scholar