What Makes A Great Leader

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In another post written by students of Dr. Carter’s Social Psychology course, Corey Woodford, Hannah Lester, Michaela Hicks discuss an article on leadership titled “Two ways to the top: Evidence that dominance and prestige are distinct yet viable avenues to social rank and influence.” The original article can be found here. 

How do people reach leadership positions? Is it because they are generally likable and compassionate about the group? Or is it because they are ruthless and their followers are too scared to do anything but listen to them? Maybe it is a combination of both. Researchers Cheng, Tracy, Foulsham, Kingstone and Henrich formed an experiment that tests these theories. They wanted to know if dominance and prestige work together to get people to the top. In the case of this study, dominance is a force and intimidation and prestige is being able to share your experiences and knowing how to gain respect. Cheng et al. performed two studies that tested the roles in which dominance and prestige play in the selection of a leader. They used students from the University of British Columbia, who had no prior knowledge of each other before the study, as participants for both of the studies.

The first study’s goal was to distinguish whether or not dominance and prestige are acceptable ways of predicting social influence. It was set up as a round robin setting where groups of 4 to 6 of the same gender, not already acquainted with each other, completed an assignment, then interacted with each other, and then were asked to fill out a questionnaire at the end. Each side of the table was recorded by a video camera looking exclusively at one side of the table. The questionnaire provided peer ratings on who seemed to have more influence, who had more “dominance and prestige” in their group, and the likeability of the group members. The results of the study concluded that, in fact, both dominance and prestige predict greater social influence, but that they are different paths to attaining social rank, with prestige seen as more likeable than dominance.

Going off the first study, the second study’s goal was to “determine whether gaze allocation patterns corresponded to perceived Dominance and Prestige”. In other words, do dominant or more prestigious individuals receive more visual attention? The participants watched a series of video clips used from the first study, and were asked to think of who they would want to work with on the same task if they were in the room doing the same thing. The participants were wearing eye trackers so the researchers were able to see who they looked at the most while watching these video clips. The results showed that people do tend to notice who the dominant or more prestigious person in the room is, and they subconsciously do visually fixate on them, meaning they receive more visual attention.

Study 1: with 191 participants, this study compensated them with a chance of extra compensation during the study. The participants first completed an individual activity and then a group activity. The group activity was recorded for 20 minutes.

Study 2: 59 participants were involved and were instructed to watch 6 twenty-second videos. This study was used to determine a relationship between gaze allocation patterns and perceived Dominance and Prestige.

While the study was something always relevant and very interesting, it did have some aspects that it did not take into consideration. First, the study did not use co-ed groups. Especially in today’s time, gender norms are a hot topic and are of interest to many people. A future study could use co-ed groups to help distinguish between gender norms that influence leadership positions. Second, the participants of the study were of all different ages. Age is indicative of knowledge and when you are older you can be seen as more superior of those who are younger than you.  Keeping age brackets for each group would have been a beneficial addition to the parameters of the study. With these critiques in mind, a future study would be beneficial to really dive into the psychology of leadership positions from a non-age or non-gender biased study.

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