Divide and conquer: When and why leaders undermine the cohesive fabric of their group

Charleen R. Case*, Jon K. Maner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


Cohesion, cooperation, and the formation of positive bonds among group members are key processes that facilitate effective group functioning. Consequently, group leaders usually work to enhance the positive social bonds among group members to facilitate cooperation and group cohesion. The present research suggests, however, that leaders sometimes are motivated to generate divisions-not cooperation-among their subordinates. Although such divisions may undermine group functioning, they can also serve as a means of protecting the leader's own power. Four experiments supported the hypothesis that, when they perceive their power to be threatened, leaders create divisions among their subordinates in order to protect their power and reduce threats posed by potential alliances among those subordinates. Leaders restricted the amount of communication among subordinates (Experiment 1), physically sequestered subordinates (Experiment 2), and prevented subordinates from bonding with one another interpersonally (Experiments 3 and 4). Those behaviors were observed only among dominance-motivated leaders (not prestige-motivated leaders), and were directed only toward highly skilled (and thus highly threatening) subordinates. Consistent with the hypothesis that leaders' behavior was driven by a desire to protect their power, the tendency to prevent in-group bonding was eliminated when leaders were assured that their power could not be lost (Experiment 4). These results shed light on factors that may undermine positive social processes within groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1033-1050
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014


  • Dominance
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Leadership
  • Organizational behavior
  • Power
  • Prestige

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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