Dr. Christopher R. von Rueden

Associate Professor of Leadership Studies


Dr. Christopher von Rueden looks at leadership through the lens of cultural and evolutionary anthropology.

An anthropologist with expertise in traditional human societies, his research focuses on how humans form status hierarchies, why we evolved to do so, and the demographic and ecological factors that cause our hierarchies to be more or less coercive. Relatedly, he studies the role of leader-follower relationships in the evolution of human cooperation.

At the Jepson School, von Rueden teaches courses such as Theories and Models of Leadership, and Sex, Leadership, and the Evolution of Human Societies.

In addition to his work on status and leadership, he has published on topics such as why humans differ in personality traits and why we have such unique life histories among primates.

He conducts ethnographic fieldwork with the Tsimané forager-horticulturalists of Amazonian Bolivia. His work with the Tsimané is part of a larger project (the Tsimané Health and Life History Project) that investigates aging, health, and social behavior in a small-scale human population.

Through his affiliations with the Santa Fe Institute and the Culture and the Mind Project, von Rueden has investigated social networks and wealth inheritance in traditional human societies and cross-cultural variation in moral decision-making, respectively.

He received a doctorate in anthropology, with an emphasis in cognitive science, from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Harvard University.

Selected Publications


Mark Van Vugt and Christopher von Rueden (2020). From genes to minds to cultures: Evolutionary Approaches to Leadership. The Leadership Quarterly. 

Sarah Alami, Christopher von Rueden, Edmond Seabright, Thomas S. Kraft, Aaron D. Blackwell, Jonathan Stieglitz, Hillard Kaplan and Michael Gurven (2020). Mother's social status is associated with child health in a horticulturalist population. Proceedings of the Royal Society B.   

Paul E. Smaldino, Aaron Lukaszewski, Christopher von Rueden, Michael Gurven (2019). Niche diversity can explain cross-cultural differences in personality structure. Nature Human Behaviour. 

Lukaszewski, A., M. Gurven, C. von Rueden, & P. Smaldino (2019). Toward integration of the niche diversity hypothesis with other explanations for personality covariation. Social Psychological and Personality Science.

von Rueden C. (2019). Making and unmaking egalitarianism in small-scale human societies. Current Opinion in Psychology, 33, 167-171.

von Rueden, C., D. Redhead, R. O’Gorman, H. Kaplan, & M. Gurven (2019). The dynamics of men's cooperation and social status in a small-scale society. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 286, 20191367.

von Rueden, C. Review of "The Imbalance of Power: Leadership, Masculinity, and Wealth in the Amazon," by M. Brightman. American Ethnologist, 46, 117-118.

Garfield, Z., C. von Rueden, & E. Hagen (2019). The evolutionary anthropology of political leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 30, 59-80.

von Rueden, C., S. Alami, H. Kaplan, & M. Gurven (2018). Sex differences in political leadership in an egalitarian society. Evolution and Human Behavior, 39, 402-411.

Lukaszewski, A., M. Gurven, C. von Rueden, & D. Schmitt. (2017). What explains personality covariation? A test of the socioecological complexity hypothesis. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 8, 943-952.

von Rueden, C. & Jaeggi, A. (2016). Men’s social status and reproductive success in 33 non-industrial societies: effects of subsistence, marriage system, and reproductive strategy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 113, 10824-10829.

Barrett, H.C., A. Bolyanatz, A. Crittenden, D. Fessler, S. Fitzpatrick, M. Gurven, J. Henrich, M. Kanovsky, G. Kushnick, A. Pisor, B. Scelza, S. Stich, C. von Rueden, W. Zhao, & S. Laurence (2016). Small-scale societies exhibit fundamental variation in the role of intentions in moral judgment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 113, 4688-4693.

von Rueden, C. & van Vugt, M. (2015). Leadership in small-scale societies: some implications for leadership evolution and practice. The Leadership Quarterly, 26, 978-990.

Glowacki, L. & C. von Rueden. (2015). Leadership solves collective action problems in small-scale societies. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 370, 20150014.

von Rueden, C., A. Lukaszewski, & M. Gurven (2015). Adaptive personality calibration in a human society: effects of embodied capital on prosocial traits. Behavioral Ecology, 26, 1071-1082.


Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara 2011

M.A., University of California, Santa Barbara 2007

B.A., Harvard University 2001

Contact Information

235 Jepson Hall
(804) 287-6098
(804) 287-6062 (Fax)

Areas of Expertise

Status Hierarchy
Leader Emergence in Task Groups
Evolution of Cooperation and Morality
Social Gradient of Health
Small-scale Societies
Origins of Personality Differences