Welcome to the new business section of This View of Life. My name is Jon Haidt, and I’m a social psychologist and professor of business ethics at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

Why business? What does evolution have to contribute to the study or conduct of business? Here’s my short list:

1) Because companies are made of people, and evolutionary psychology can shed light on so many aspects of human nature at work, e.g., status and rivalry, teamwork, leadership, and job satisfaction.

2) Because corporations are people too. Well, not really, but they are entities that grow, change, and compete in ways sometimes analogous to those of other individuals or species. Change in the business world fits very well into a Darwinian framework. Corporations are to humans what hives are to bees – the next step upwards in a multi-level selection framework.

3) Because marketing makes so much more sense when you view consumers as seeking to display traits signaling their fitness as mates and cooperative partners (see Geoffrey Miller’s work on sexual selection and marketing, e.g., his wonderful book Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior).

4) Because ethical behavior in business is so important, and so difficult to achieve by direct instruction or exhortation. One recurring theme of this page will be ethical systems design – the effort to improve business ethics by interventions that work with human nature, not against it.

As the editor of this page, I’ll try to find, write, and solicit content from all over the academic and business worlds that use the evolutionary lens to reveal new insights about what makes companies successful in the marketplace, and what makes people successful within companies.

Please send me your ideas for books, news stories, and research articles to cover, and please check back here every week for new content!

Jonathan Haidt (pronounced “height”) is a social psychologist and professor in the Business and Society Program at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He studies moral psychology, with a particular interest in the moral emotions, such as moral disgust and moral elevation. He is the author of two books – The Happiness Hypothesis, and The Righteous Mind. In his current work he is examining businesses as complex multi-level organisms that have cultural and institutional features that can be more or less hospitable to ethical and unethical behavior.

Published On: September 4, 2013


  • Juan Alfonso del Busto says:

    Congratulations for the inauguration of this new section! I am looking forward to knowing more about Evolutionary Psychology and cultural evolution applied to business and organizations.

    I bet “groupishness” (a term you coined, if I am not mistaken) is key to understanding how organizations work.

    Good luck!

  • Ed Gibney says:

    What a great addition to Evolution: This View of Life! As a University of Michigan MBA grad who has dropped out of the rat race to work on Evolutionary Philosophy, I’m very much looking forward to your future contributions Professor Haidt. Since you asked, some of my favorite business books that might be germane to you would be: “Tribal Ledership” by Logan, King, and Fischer-Wright; “The Ecology of Commerce” by Hawken; and “Small Giants” by Burlingham. All would be on my syllabus for a course I wish we had had in B-school to teach us about the need to balance competition with cooperation. Too much emphasis is placed on winning, short-term results, competition, and more winning. Evolution teaches us this can lead to fragile, overspecialized niches.

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