Efficient Redistribution of Scarce Resources Favours Hierarchies

Rob M.A. Nelissen*, Ivet A. Muñoz, David C. Muñoz, Mark R. Kramer, Gert Jan Hofstede

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference paperAcademicpeer-review


Common views identify resource abundance as the cause for the emergence of hierarchy in societies. We investigated if hierarchy may also thrive as a mechanism of redistributing scarce and variable resources, mimicking conditions of ancestral, hunter-gatherer societies. To that end, we built an agent-based model in which we compared the relative success of a comprehensive range of redistribution strategies, derived from relational models theory (Fiske in Psychol Rev 99:689–723, 1992) and explored how well populations of agents that adopt different rules for sharing resources thrive under different levels of resource availability, reflecting scarcer versus more abundant environments. Our results show that under most levels of resource availability, a population of agents that redistribute pooled resources according to individual differences in rank among the agents (i.e., reflecting an “Authority Ranking” model), was more sustainable than populations that adopted equal- and need-based sharing rules, as well as agents that did not share resources. Our results suggest that the dominant manifestation of hierarchical organization in society does not require surplus and may derive from its effectiveness in dealing with scarce resources at the group-level.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAdvances in Social Simulation - Proceedings of the 16th Social Simulation Conference
EditorsMarcin Czupryna, Bogumił Kamiński
ISBN (Print)9783030928421
Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2022
Event16th Social Simulation Conference, SSC 2021 - Kraków, Poland
Duration: 20 Sept 202124 Sept 2021

Publication series

NameSpringer Proceedings in Complexity
ISSN (Print)2213-8684
ISSN (Electronic)2213-8692


Conference16th Social Simulation Conference, SSC 2021


  • Agent-based models
  • Hierarchy
  • Multi-agent systems
  • Redistribution
  • Relational models theory
  • Resource availability
  • Sociality


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