For power and status, dominance and skill trump likability

December 19, 2012

Finding the next Barack Obama or Warren Buffett might be as simple as looking at who attracts the most eyes in a crowd, a new University of British Columbia study finds.

For the study, which used eye-, participants who observed groups of strangers were able to accurately predict who would emerge as leader of the group in 120 seconds or less.

According to the study – to appear in the forthcoming – two sets of behaviours will accurately predict future leadership and catch people's attention. The first is prestige – the appearance of skill and . The second is dominance, which includes the ability to impose ideas on others through bullying and .

"Our findings suggest there are really two ways to top the social ladder and gain leadership – impressing people with your skills or powering your way through old-fashioned dominance," says lead author Joey Cheng, a PhD candidate in UBC's Dept. of Psychology. "By measuring levels of influence and , we find that people defer to and readily spot the prestigious and dominant leaders."

Surprisingly, the study finds that one's likeability – long considered essential for modern leaders – does not consistently predict the attainment of greater status. While participants preferred leaders with prestige, they were surprisingly likely to choose dominant leaders. They were also more forgiving of dominant behaviour than outside observers, the researchers say.

The findings might explain the ongoing prevalence of aggressive leaders in business and politics, such as Donald Trump or Toronto mayor Rob Ford. According to the researchers, today's dominant behaviour has evolved from resource and power battles from our evolutionary past. Prestige's as means of attaining status, has increased with the rise of meritocracy in society.

Backgrounder

The study had two parts. First, 200 participants completed a problem-solving task in small groups while being videotaped. Group members rated participants' dominance, prestige and influence during the task, including their own. Participants who were more dominant or prestigious had a greater influence on the task and were perceived as more influential by group members.

In the second part of the study, 60 additional participants watched a total of 120 seconds of short videos of the initial group interactions while wearing an eye-tracking device. These participants paid significantly greater attention to individuals in the clips who appeared more dominant or prestigious, indicating their higher levels of influence.

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

Related Stories

The deep voice of alpha male

May 28, 2010

Men with a deep, masculine voice are seen as more dominant by other men but a man's own dominance - perceived or actual - does not affect how attentive he is to his rivals' voices. His own dominance does however influence ...

Recommended for you

Sleep makes relearning faster and longer-lasting

August 22, 2016

Getting some sleep in between study sessions may make it easier to recall what you studied and relearn what you've forgotten, even 6 months later, according to new findings from Psychological Science, a journal of the Association ...

Psychosis associated with low levels of physical activity

August 25, 2016

A large international study of more than 200,000 people in nearly 50 countries has revealed that people with psychosis engage in low levels of physical activity, and men with psychosis are over two times more likely to miss ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Mauricio
3 / 5 (2) Dec 19, 2012
What a negative view of dominance:"includes the ability to impose ideas on others through bullying and intimidation.". It includes more importantly the level of influence of an individual using logical arguments, serving as a model in difficult situations and so on. I do not see how Warren Buffet bullied me, instead, there are books that I read where he expresses very logical thoughts.

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.