On the high horse: Why dominant individuals climb the proverbial ladder

April 23, 2008

In an attempt to grasp complex concepts, humans have tried to represent abstractions like power and dominance through visually-stimulated metaphors such as pyramids and steeples. And dominance especially has been measured socially, linguistically and artistically on a vertical dimension, as with upper and lower class divisions in hierarchical structures.

While this may be considered a commonly recognized phenomenon, it proved to be an under-researched theory until recently when psychologists from North Dakota State University found a method to understand personality processes through the measurement of metaphoric representations. Specifically, Sara Moeller, Michael Robinson and Darya Zabelina discovered that individuals high in dominance paid closer attention to stimuli in vertical positions than other participants.

The findings, which appear in the April 2008 issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, imply that a person’s level of dominance could be measured based on their biases favoring vertical representations of power.

“Simply stated, more dominant individuals think in dominance-related terms to a greater extent than do less dominant individuals,” the authors wrote. “That is, their thoughts more often involve power, powerlessness and relative dominance.”

The scientists supported this theory using a simple computer program that prompted participants to press the ‘p’ or ‘q’ key when it appeared on the screen. The letters were displayed on the right, left, top or bottom part of the screen. Those individuals who responded quickly when the letters were on the top or bottom of the screen also had high scores in dominance on a personality inventory. The other participants did not show a significant preference for the vertically-arranged letters.

“Our results are among the first to establish the benefits of the metaphor representation perspective for understanding personality processes,” explained Moeller, “and they specifically suggest that thinking dominantly predisposes one to see vertically.”

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Explore further: Women in developed nations with strong Catholic heritage less likely to breastfeed

Related Stories

How strong is the force of gravity on Earth?

December 7, 2016

Gravity is a pretty awesome fundamental force. If it wasn't for the Earth's comfortable 1 g, which causes objects to fall towards the Earth at a speed of 9.8 m/s², we'd all float off into space. And without it, all us terrestrial ...

Apartheid's lingering effects on HIV and AIDS

December 7, 2016

Though it was abolished more than two decades ago, Apartheid continues to affect communities in South Africa. In this political system, which lasted from 1948 to the 1994 democratic elections, people were racially classified ...

Re-emergence of syphilis traced to pandemic strain cluster

December 5, 2016

Over the last few decades, an age-old infectious disease has been re-emerging globally: syphilis. Using techniques to analyze low levels of DNA, an international research team headed by the University of Zurich has now shown ...

Recommended for you

Illusion reveals that the brain fills in peripheral vision

December 8, 2016

What we see in the periphery, just outside the direct focus of the eye, may sometimes be a visual illusion, according to new findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.