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The height leadership advantage in men and women: Testing evolutionary psychology predictions about the perceptions of tall leaders

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Research suggests that tall individuals have an advantage over short individuals in terms of status, prestige, and leadership, though it is not clear why. Applying an evolutionary psychology perspective, we predicted that taller individuals are seen as more leader-like because they are perceived as more dominant, healthy, and intelligent. Being fit and physically imposing were arguably important leadership qualities in ancestral human environments—perhaps especially for males—where being a leader entailed considerable physical risks. In line with our expectations, our results demonstrate that by manipulating an individual’s stature height positively influences leadership perception for both men and women, though the effect is stronger for men. For male leaders this height leadership advantage is mediated by their perceived dominance, health, and intelligence; while for female leaders this effect is only mediated by perceived intelligence.
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Group Processes & Intergroup Relations
1 –11
© The Author(s) 2012
Reprints and permission: sagepub.
DOI: 10.1177/1368430212437211
Group Processes &
Intergroup Relations
Research shows a positive relationship between tall
stature and measures of status and leadership.
Height is positively associated with income (Judge
& Cable, 2004), authority status in the workplace
(Gawley, Perks, & Curtis, 2009) and military rank
(Masur, Masur, & Keating, 1984). Furthermore,
individuals in managerial positions are taller, on
average, than individuals in nonmanagerial posi-
tions (Egolf & Corder, 1991), American science
professors are taller than the general public
(Hensley, 1993), and the U.S. presidential election
outcome is partially predicted by height of the
winning candidate—the taller candidate is twice as
likely to become president (McCann, 2001). People
also tend to judge an individual’s height based on
that individual’s status (Dannenmaier & Thumin,
437211 XXX10.1177/1368430212437211Blaker et al.Group Processes & Intergroup Relations
1VU University Amsterdam, Netherlands
2University of Oxford, UK
Corresponding author:
Nancy Blaker, Department of Social and Organizational
Psychology, VU University Amsterdam, van der
Boechorststraat 1, 1081 BT, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
The height leadership advantage
in men and women: Testing
evolutionary psychology predictions
about the perceptions of tall leaders
Nancy M. Blaker,1 Irene Rompa,1 Inge H. Dessing,1
Anne Florijn Vriend,1 Channah Herschberg1
and Mark van Vugt1 ,2
Research suggests that tall individuals have an advantage over short individuals in terms of status,
prestige, and leadership, though it is not clear why. Applying an evolutionary psychology perspective,
we predicted that taller individuals are seen as more leader-like because they are perceived as more
dominant, healthy, and intelligent. Being fit and physically imposing were arguably important leadership
qualities in ancestral human environments—perhaps especially for males—where being a leader entailed
considerable physical risks. In line with our expectations, our results demonstrate that by manipulating
an individual’s stature height positively influences leadership perception for both men and women,
though the effect is stronger for men. For male leaders this height leadership advantage is mediated by
their perceived dominance, health, and intelligence; while for female leaders this effect is only mediated
by perceived intelligence.
leadership, evolution, height, dominance, health, and intelligence
2 Group Processes & Intergroup Relations
1964; Higham & Carment, 1992; Roberts &
Herman, 1986), and judge someone’s status on the
basis of their height (Lindeman & Sundvik, 1994).
Why is height associated with leadership emer-
gence? Research has shown a link between height
and dominant or assertive personality traits which
may facilitate leader emergence (Melamed, 1992),
but how do perceptions of tall individuals contrib-
ute to this process? Previous findings show a con-
nection between perceptions of status and height,
but important questions still remain. What underlies
the perceptions about tall leaders? How can we
explain the automatic association between height
and leader perception? Finally, does the height lead-
ership advantage apply to both men and women?
In this article we integrate ideas from leadership
categorization and implicit leadership theories
(Kenney, Schwartz-Kenney, & Blascovich, 1996;
Lord, Foti, & De Vader, 1984) with an evolutionary
psychology framework to understand the implicit
association between height and leadership.
In the current paper, leadership is defined
broadly as a process of influence to achieve group
goals (Bass, 1990). It is argued that taller individuals
are perceived as more leader-like because height
has been an important indicator of someone’s
dominance, health, and fitness throughout human
evolutionary history. Because leadership in ancestral
human environments involved significant physical
risks—as it does for modern hunter gatherers—
height might have provided reliable signals about
someone’s potential to lead others, which may still
influence leadership perceptions today (van Vugt,
Hogan, & Kaiser, 2008). Our hypothesis partially
explains sex biases in leadership emergence as a
function of height. We test this height leadership
advantage hypothesis through an experiment in
which we manipulate the stature of a male and
female leader in a business environment.
Evolutionary leadership theory
According to evolutionary leadership theory
(Spisak, Nicholson, & van Vugt, 2011; van Vugt,
2006; van Vugt & Ahuja, 2010; van Vugt et al.,
2008) leadership and followership are adaptive
strategies which evolved because they facilitated
the social coordination of ancestral groups and
helped them achieve a wide range of reproductive
goals such as hunting, group movement, group
defense, and maintaining social cohesion. The argu-
ment is that groups with effective leader–follower
relations were more successful and as a result the
capacity to follow an individual leader spread
through the population and eventually became
hardwired in the brain.
Evolutionary psychologists assume that the
human brain evolved throughout our evolutionary
history, much of which our ancestors spent living
in small nomadic societies on the African savannah
(for further reading, see Buss, 2005; Confer et al.,
2010; Tooby & Cosmides, 1992). It is further
assumed that the mind contains a wide range of
evolved psychological mechanisms—likely in the
shape of if-then decision rules—that helps solve
a broad range of significant evolutionary problems
such as finding a mate, investing in parental sup-
port, and forming coalitions to share resources.
With regard to the problem of social coordination,
this likely entails various specialized psychological
mechanisms to identify situations as coordination
problems and select appropriate individuals to
exercise influence.
An evolutionary approach to leadership suggests
that leadership would have been instrumental in
solving problems such as group movement (e.g., for
hunting), group defense, and maintaining cohesion.
Extrapolating from the animal and hunter gatherer
evidence (King, Johnson, & van Vugt, 2009) it is
likely that taking on the leadership role would have
entailed significant physical costs because individuals
often lead by example and lead from the front. For
instance, leading a hunt would have been physically
grueling and maintaining group unity would have
involved physical risks associated with punishing
individuals stepping out of line (O’Gorman,
Henrich, & van Vugt, 2009). As a result, humans
have evolved various psychological algorithms to
help them identify suitable leaders and allow these
individuals to exercise influence on them. Given the
physical risks involved, early humans would have
been looking for cues that these individuals would
have been physically “fit to lead”; leadership has
indeed been related to properties such as physical
stamina, health, and energy in a number of studies
(see Bass & Bass, 2008).
Blaker et al. 3
We propose that one of these evolved algo-
rithms to assess leadership is through someone’s
physical height. In ancestral environments, as well
as in modern environments, someone’s height is a
good indicator of their fitness. Research shows
that taller men have more reproductive success
(Pawlowski, Dunbar, & Lipowicz, 2000) and that
height is associated with greater physical strength
(Lundborg, Nystedt, & Rooth, 2009) and social
dominance (Melamed, 1992; Sharoni, 2006).
Furthermore, the idea that height is a general fit-
ness indicator is supported by studies suggesting
that taller individuals (male and female) are more
intelligent (Case & Paxson, 2008; Kanazawa &
Reyniers, 2009). Note that such qualities—health,
strength, dominance, and intelligence—would have
been important qualities in leadership among our
ancestors, and given the relatively slow pace of
biological evolution these qualities may still influ-
ence leadership perceptions today (the mismatch
hypothesis; van Vugt & Ahuja, 2010).
Previous research on leader perception has
shown that people have implicit leadership theo-
ries about who is best suited to lead in a variety
of different situations (Lord, De Vader, & Alliger,
1986). Implicit leadership theory postulates that
our past experiences shape our perceptions of
leaders through cognitive schemas and prototypes.
Extending on that idea, leader categorization
theory proposes that we match those implicit
leader prototypes with our perceptions of leaders
(Lord & Maher, 1991). In the traditional under-
standing of leader categorization, what constitutes
a prototypical leader may differ across cultures,
because different cultures can cause different
learned cognitive schemas and stereotypes
(Javidan, Dorfman, Sully de Luque, & House,
2006). However, evolutionary leadership theory
suggests that in addition there may also be evolved
or instinctive implicit biases concerning who is
categorized as a leader. Recent work has already
started to explore this idea concerning implicit
perceptions of leadership using facial cues (Spisak,
Homan, Grabo, & van Vugt, 2011).
Based on an evolutionary analysis it is perhaps
not surprising that the association between height
and status is a highly automatic process. Taking an
embodied cognition perspective, Giessner and
Schubert (2007) suggested that people hold strong
implicit beliefs, articulated in language, about the
relationship between height and power (height
terms such as up, high, super, top are cognitively
associated with power). They showed that some-
thing as abstract as the length of a vertical line can
positively influence the perceptions of someone’s
power position. Additionally, dominance and sub-
mission are often cognitively represented as being
higher or lower in physical space (Robinson,
Zabelina, Ode, & Moelle, 2008). Such findings
indicate that the height–status association is auto-
matic and unconscious. Furthermore, the implicit
association between physical size and dominance
occurs at an early age. Infants as young as 10
months associate size with dominance, suggesting
the possibility that this association—or at least the
propensity to associate height with power—is hard-
wired in the brain (Thomsen, Frankenhuis, Ingold-
Smith, & Carey, 2011).
Thus, we argue that height affects the leadership
categorization process and—based on our evolu-
tionary analysis—this is likely to be influenced by
perceptions that taller individuals are more domi-
nant, physically healthier, and more intelligent.
Sex differences in leadership
Can this height leadership advantage account for
sex differences in leadership emergence? Research
suggests that male leadership is the norm in mod-
ern business environments (as it likely was in ances-
tral environments). When men and women work
together in teams the male usually takes on the
leadership role (van Vugt, 2006) and men tend to
lead in a more authoritarian way (Eagly & Johnson,
1990). However, this is not to say that men make
better leaders than women. Yet our hypothesis sug-
gests why this male leadership bias may be hard to
eradicate, as males are on average much taller than
females (Gustafsson & Lindenfors, 2004).
Height has been linked to dominance percep-
tion (Marsh, Yu, Schechter, & Blair, 2009) and to
actual dominant behavior (Melamed, 1992; Sharoni,
2006), indicating that the belief that taller individu-
als are more dominant is not merely a cultural
stereotype. Also, height may not lead to increased
4 Group Processes & Intergroup Relations
dominance perception in females, as individuals
selectively pay attention to dominance cues in males
but not in females (Maner, DeWall, & Gailliot,
2008). Additionally, research shows that at times
of intergroup conflict a more masculine leadership
prototype is activated because masculinity is associ-
ated with dominance (Spisak et al., 2011; van Vugt
& Spisak, 2008). This leads to the prediction that,
all else being equal, people should rate men as more
leader-like than women, on average.
What about the different perceptions of tall men
and women as leaders? Given the evolutionary
importance of physically imposing leaders during
conflict and group movements we suspect that height
is a more important cue for leadership in men than
women. Thus, we predict that, although taller men
and women are seen as more leader-like than their
shorter counterparts, this effect will be stronger for
men than for women. Furthermore, we argued earlier
that height is a general fitness indicator and there is
some evidence that taller individuals are indeed
healthier, more dominant, and even more intelligent.
Intelligence is a predictor of leadership across many
different situations (Lord et al., 1986). General intel-
ligence has been associated with leadership effective-
ness in business (Kuncel & Hezlett, 2010; Müller &
Turner, 2010; Ones, Viswesvaran, & Dilchert, 2004),
politics (for an overview, see Simonton, 2006), and
even among monarchs (Simonton, 2001). Yet, unlike
physical strength and dominance, intelligence does
not differ between sexes, at least on average
(Kanazawa & Reyniers, 2009). Therefore, we expect
the height leadership advantage for women to be
due primarily to them being perceived as more intel-
ligent rather than physically fit and imposing.
In sum, the height leadership advantage among
men might be driven by indicators of both intel-
ligence and physical attributes such as dominance
and health, whereas among women the height
leadership advantage might be driven primarily by
perceptions of general intelligence.
Research design
For the current research we adopt an evolutionary
perspective to test the advantage of tall stature
regarding leadership perception. We predict that
taller individuals are judged as more leader-like by
potential followers, and that this effect is driven
by traits which observers automatically link to peo-
ple of a certain physical height; namely health and
dominance (mainly for men), as well as intelligence
(for both sexes). By manipulating the height of a
male and female target leader, perceivers evaluate
these targets on the basis of their leadership poten-
tial. We expect that a taller version of the same
individual will be perceived as more leader-like than
the identical shorter version. We expect this effect
to be stronger for males than for females, because
dominance and physical health are more charac-
teristic for masculine leadership roles in our ances-
tral past. Taller individuals are expected to be
perceived as more intelligent, which should apply
to both sexes. Thus, we expect that perceived intel-
ligence mediates the effect of height on leadership
perception for female target leaders, and that per-
ceived intelligence, as well as dominance and health,
mediate the effect for male target leaders.
Participants and design
Participants were 256 anonymous Internet users
who responded to an invitation via social media
websites or via direct e-mail contact to participate
in a short online study. Of these 256 respondents,
181 were female, and 230 had Dutch nationality.
We employed a mixed-model design, as participants
were randomly assigned to one of two height condi-
tions (short targets, tall targets), and each answered
questions regarding a male as well as a female target.
Height was a between-subjects factor while gender
was a within-subjects factor; every participant either
saw a tall man and a tall woman, or a short man
and a short woman.
Manipulation Height was manipulated by using
an imaging software to make the target appear
15 centimeters taller or shorter than the Dutch aver-
age male or female height. This resulted in a male
short height of 1.65 meters, a male tall height of
Blaker et al. 5
1.95 meters, a female short height of 1.55 meters,
and a female tall height of 1.85 meters. The short
and tall versions of the targets, depicted on an
edited photograph, were identical apart from their
difference in size. The targets wore business attire
and were middle-aged. See Figure 1 for the pictures
used in the study.
Dependent measures First, participants viewed
a photograph of either a short or tall male accom-
panied by supplemental information regarding his
name, height, age, and hobbies. Participants then
reported their level of agreement on a 10-point
scale (0 = completely disagree, 10 = completely agree) to
a few statements regarding their impression of the
male target. Items were (in order): “This person looks
vital,” “This person looks like a leader,”This person looks
dominant,” and “This person looks intelligent.” The item
concerning leadership perception was the depend-
ent variable, while the others were potential media-
tors of the effect of height on leadership perception.
We operationalized health with the term “vital” as
it encompasses health as well as stamina, energy,
and vigor. We did not use “This person looks healthy
because this could also be interpreted as merely
meaning the opposite of being ill or sick.
After viewing the photograph and responding
to the items participants were asked to estimate the
height of the target on a 5-point scale (1 = Very tall,
2 = Tall, 3 = Neither tall nor short, 4 = Short, and 5 =
Very short), in order to ensure the manipulation of
height was successful. The entire procedure was
subsequently repeated with a female target. All
items were identical for male and female targets.
Finally, participants filled out information regarding
their gender, height, and nationality, and were given
the opportunity to leave behind their e-mail address
in order to receive information about the study.
For means and SDs of the dependent measures
across the target gender and target height condi-
tions refer to Table 1. Due to the directional nature
of the hypotheses, all p-values reported are one-
sided unless otherwise specified.
Manipulation check
A t test showed that the male (t(263) = 13.42,
p < .001) and female target (t(263) = 8.13, p < .001)
were judged significantly taller in the tall (M = 2.86
for male, M = 3.75 for female) than in the short
condition (M = 2.86 for male, M = 3.75 for female).
The manipulation thus successfully influenced the
participants’ perception of height in the corre-
sponding conditions.
Effects of height and gender on
leader perception
A 2 (short target, tall target; between subjects) × 2
(male target, female target; within subjects) mixed
model design was tested with a repeated measures
Figure 1. Images shown to participants in the study.
6 Group Processes & Intergroup Relations
ANOVA to examine the main effects of gender
and height and their interaction effect on leader
perception. To control for participant gender and
participants’ own height, we added these two vari-
ables to the model as covariates. There was no effect
of participant gender (F(1, 261) = 1.191, p = .276)
or of participant’s own height (F(1, 261) = .001,
p = .974) on leader perception (two-sided p-values
are reported for the covariates as we had no hypoth-
esis for participant gender or participant height).
As expected, there was a significant main effect
of target gender on leader perception, F(1, 261) =
3.41, p = .033, η² = .01, with male targets receiving
higher ratings of leader perception than female tar-
gets. Also, tall targets were rated significantly more
leader-like than short targets, F(1, 261) = 24.21, p <
.001, η² = .08. Finally, the interaction effect of target
gender and target height on leader perception was
also significant, F(1, 261) = 3.41, p < .001, η² = .04.
As depicted in Figure 2, the interaction effect is
driven by the fact that the positive simple effect of
height on leader perception is weaker for the female
target, t(1, 261) = 1.76, p = .039, than for the male
target, F(1, 261) = 6.81, p < .001.
Mediation analysis
We explored the effect of height on leader percep-
tion further by performing a mediation analysis
using the bootstrapping method (with 5,000 resa-
mples) to test several indirect effects (Preacher &
Hayes, 2008). We tested a multiple mediator model
(see Figures 3 and 4) with height as the independent
variable, leader perception as the dependent variable,
and dominance, health, and intelligence as media-
tors. As our hypotheses differ for male and female
targets we first tested the model on the perception
of male leadership, and then repeated the process
exclusively for the perception of female leadership.
Finally, we tested whether the results for male and
female targets significantly differed from each other.
Figure 3. Mediation model showing standardized
regression coefficients for female targets.
*p < .05 (one-sided p-values).
Table 1. Means (and SDs) for leadership perception, and dominance, vitality, and intelligence perception, for
short versus tall male and female targets
Leader Dominance Vitality Intelligence
Short 5.91 (1.96) 5.01 (1.84) 6.88 (1.72) 6.72 (1.76)
Tall 7.48 (1.70) 6.26 (2.14) 7.52 (1.47) 7.50 (1.53)
Total 6.66 (2.00) 5.61 (2.08) 7.18 (1.64) 7.09 (1.69)
Short 5.30 (2.17) 4.95 (2.37) 6.01 (1.75) 6.22 (1.80)
Tall 5.80 (2.39) 5.42 (2.46) 6.40 (1.99) 6.72 (1.71)
Total 5.54 (2.29) 5.17 (2.43) 6.20 (1.87) 6.46 (1.77)
Figure 2. Interaction effect of target gender and
target height on leadership perception (dependent
variable “This person looks like a leader”).
Blaker et al. 7
In all mediation analyses participant gender and
participants’ own height are controlled for by add-
ing these variables as covariates.
Male target For the male target, we found reliable
indirect effects for dominance with a 95% confi-
dence interval of .25 to .67, for health with a 95%
confidence interval of .05 to .30, and finally for
intelligence with a 95% confidence of .10 to .49.
The results show partial mediation, as the total
effect (β = .39, p < .001) attenuates when the media-
tors are added to the model (β = 17, p < .001) but
remains significant. Figure 3 shows these and other
parameters of the mediation model.
Female target The mediation analysis applied to
the female target yielded different results, as domi-
nance did not mediate the effect of height on leader
perception (with a 95% confidence interval of −.06
to .34), and neither did health (with a 95% confi-
dence interval of −.01 to .13). However, we did
find the expected indirect effect for intelligence
with a 95% confidence interval between .03 and
.35. The results for female leader perception show
full mediation, as the total effect (β = .11, p = .039)
becomes nonsignificant when the mediators are
added to the model = .00, p = .482). Figure 4
shows all standardized regression coefficients.
Comparison of male and female target Target
gender was tested as a within-subjects factor by
repeating the mediation analysis with difference
scores (scores for male target minus scores for
female target). First, results showed that the simple
main effect of height on leader perception for the
male target was significantly stronger than for the
female target, t(6, 258) = 3.51, p < .001, β = .21.
Second, results showed that the indirect effect of
height on leader perception through dominance
was significantly stronger for the male target than
the female target (with a 95% confidence interval
of .048 to .65). The indirect effects through health
(with a 95% confidence interval of .048 to .65)
and intelligence (with a 95% confidence interval
of .048 to .65) did not differ significantly for male
and female targets.
Summary of results
Overall, the results support our hypotheses by
demonstrating that men are seen as more leader-
like than women, and tall individuals are seen as
more leader-like than short individuals. Also, the
effect of height on leader perception is stronger
for men than for women. Additionally, the results
indicate that tall men are seen as more leader-like
because of their perceived dominance, health, and
intelligence; but taller women are only seen as more
intelligent and therefore more leader-like. Height
did not have a significant effect on female health
or female dominance. As expected, the indirect
effect of dominance was significantly stronger for
the male target than for the female target, and the
indirect effect of intelligence did not differ across
target gender. However, although health was a sig-
nificant mediator for men but not women, the
indirect effect of health was not significantly
stronger for the male target than for the female
target. Participant gender and participant height
were controlled for throughout all analyses.
The results of the study support our hypotheses.
Our findings show that taller individuals are evalu-
ated as more leader-like than shorter individuals;
and this effect appears to be particularly strong
when evaluating male targets on leadership poten-
tial. The gender difference was not completely
attributable to height, as the male target was seen
Figure 4. Mediation model showing standardized
regression coefficients for male targets.
*p < .05 (one-sided p-values).
8 Group Processes & Intergroup Relations
as more leader-like overall than the female target
when controlling for height. The tall male target
was judged as more leader-like due to perceptions
of dominance, vitality, and intelligence, while for
the female target only intelligence mediated the
effect. Comparing the results for males and females,
we found that the mediating effect of dominance
was significantly stronger for men, while the medi-
ating effect of intelligence was equally strong for
male and female targets. Even though health sig-
nificantly mediated the effect of height on leader
perception for males but not for females, our
results did not show a significantly stronger effect
for the male targets than for the female targets.
The largest discrepancy between the effect of
height on male and female leader perception
appears to be perceived dominance.
Many studies have shown a correlation between
height and leadership, and our results now offer
experimental support to such findings. It was previ-
ously demonstrated that manipulating size pre-
dicted dominance perception in male targets
(Marsh et al., 2009), which was also replicated with
the current study. We extended this effect to leader-
ship perception in male and female targets, and
showed that this is not only because of inferred
dominance but also because people expect taller
individuals to be more intelligent, and in the case
of men, more healthy.
Previous findings on the relationship between
height and measures of status and leadership have
been inconsistent for females. Several individual
studies have demonstrated the effect for males but
not females (Deck, 1968; Frieze, Olson, & Good,
1990; Gawley et al., 2009), though a meta-analysis
indicated an overall relationship between height
and income for females (Judge & Cable, 2004). Our
findings are consistent with such an overall effect,
but demonstrate that height is more readily used as
a cue in males to infer leadership potential.
Although height did not lead to increased domi-
nance and health perception in females, we did
find that perceived dominance and health were
strongly related to female leader perception.
Apparently observers used perceived dominance
to gage leadership potential of the female target,
yet it remains unclear how the observer inferred
how dominant the female target was. Due to the
sexually dimorphic nature of dominant physical
traits such as strength and size, individuals may use
other cues than physical formidability to infer
female dominance, or have a different concept of
dominance when pertaining specifically to females.
Also, intelligence fully mediated the effect of height
on leadership perception, while for males the effect
remained strong controlling for intelligence, domi-
nance, and health. Case and Paxson (2008) argued
that the height premium is due to increased cogni-
tive capacity. Perhaps they are right, but more so
for females. Tall males seem to have an added
advantage of being perceived as more dominant
and healthy, and therefore more leader-like.
For the current study we operationalized tall
and short stature as relative to the average height
within that gender, meaning that “short” and “tall”
indicated different heights across the two targets.
It seems possible that females were perceived as
less leader-like simply because the tall female was
shorter than the tall male. However, comparing
the means, the short male (at 165 cm) was perceived
as equally leader-like as the tall female (at 185 cm),
though the tall female was substantially taller than
the short male (illustrated by gender’s significant
main effect after controlling for height). Thus, we
would expect that if we had a male and female
target of equal stature, the male would be perceived
as more leader-like than the female. The “think
leader think male” prototype is thus only partially
explained by height discrepancy between the sexes.
However, here we have demonstrated that “think
leader think tall” may also be an implicit rule-of-
thumb in judging leadership potential.
The male leadership advantage was to be
expected in our study because we induced a com-
petitive business context and showed potential lead-
ers in business attire. Research has shown how
situational factors can lead to diverging judgments
and preferences concerning masculine and feminine
leaders (Spisak et al., 2011; van Vugt & Spisak, 2008).
Perhaps by framing leadership in a less prototypically
masculine context—for example a school or hospital
environment—we would not have found such a
strong gender effect. Also, we were looking at a very
broad definition of leadership. Categorization hap-
pens at the superordinate level of leader versus
nonleader as we measured in the current study, but
Blaker et al. 9
also occurs at more basic and subordinate levels
(Rosch, 1978). For instance, height may be associated
with basic leader categories described by Lord et al.
(1984) such as business or military leader, but may
not be associated with less competitive and less
masculine leadership prototypes. Also, at a subor-
dinate level, we expect height to be a predictor of,
for instance, perceived autocratic or authoritarian
leadership, as dominance figures strongly in such
leadership styles (van Vugt, Jepson, Hart, & De
Cremer, 2004). However, there may not be a strong
connection between height and perceptions of rela-
tional or democratic leadership styles.
As is the case for many social species, human
bodily size signals dominance (Marsh et al., 2009).
However, dominance is not the only measure of
human status; in human societies status is often
based upon prestige (Henrich & Gil-White, 2001).
Whereas dominance is achieved through force and
intimidation, prestige is based on the free conferral
of status from followers. Leaders may adopt either
a more dominant or prestigious strategy; prestig-
ious leaders attain their position by means of their
superior knowledge, expertise, or ability in a certain
domain. Height may lead to dominance as well as
prestige perception, as our findings show that indi-
viduals do seem to use height as a cue to infer
intelligence. Morphological cues signaling domi-
nance have been widely studied. Perhaps consider-
ing morphological cues which possibly signal
prestige (for instance by means of signaling intel-
ligence) is an important area for future research
on human leadership.
Limitations and implications
There are a few limitations to the study. Firstly, we
used single items to measure perceptions of domi-
nance, health, and intelligence. A more careful con-
struction of scales measuring more specific domains
of dominance (for instance physical strength, intimi-
dation, fighting ability), health (physical health, vital-
ity, energy, stamina), and intelligence (analytical skills,
problem-solving capacity) is advisable for future
endeavors. Also, the order in which the male and
female target were presented was not counterbal-
anced, meaning that judgments of the female leader
might have been relative to the male leader, while
the male leader received a more independent judg-
ment. However, males and females are not judged
independently from each other in life outside of the
lab. Higher positions of leadership in the business
world are male-dominated, and female leaders are
likely judged relative to their male colleagues. Finally,
by using target leaders dressed in business attire, we
narrowed down leadership perception to one par-
ticular context. For this first study, it might have
been better to present a neutral context, and address
situational differences with additional experimental
conditions or additional studies.
Despite limitations, by using a paradigm where
height is manipulated, we have been able to dem-
onstrate that a height difference does lead to an
actual change in leadership perception. Also, we
have been able to show that the particular male
height leadership advantage is due to them being
perceived as more dominant, healthy, and intelli-
gent. Although such automatic perceptions may
have been helpful for survival in our ancestral past
by selecting the physically strongest and fittest
individuals as leaders, people should be aware that
when selecting leaders today we should be careful
not to overlook potentially effective leaders merely
because they fail to match the cognitive leadership
prototypes we have evolved. Leader perceptions
do not necessarily match leader effectiveness (Lord
& Hall, 2003); dominance may be a prime example
of this. Inherent perceptions of leadership may
especially be a hindrance for aspiring female lead-
ers, even more so in typically masculine contexts.
Adopting an evolutionary psychology perspective
to understand our implicit perceptions of leader-
ship can facilitate demonstrating why leadership
remains male-dominated, while suggesting that our
current environment does not necessarily justify
these perceptions anymore.
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... Finally, we expected several associations with sociodemographic variables. We expected body height to be positively related to both dominance and prestige because size is an indicator of these concepts (Blaker et al., 2013). For example, tall and broad individuals are associated with dominance, and tall individuals are often considered prestigious (Blaker et al., 2013). ...
... We expected body height to be positively related to both dominance and prestige because size is an indicator of these concepts (Blaker et al., 2013). For example, tall and broad individuals are associated with dominance, and tall individuals are often considered prestigious (Blaker et al., 2013). Moreover, engaging in different kinds of expansive body positions can make people feel more dominant or prestigious (K€ orner & Sch€ utz, 2020;Witkower et al., 2020). ...
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Two basic strategies can be applied to navigate hierarchies: (a) dominance, which involves the induction of fear, intimidation, or coercion to obtain status, or (b) prestige, which involves using one’s skills, knowledge, or expertise to pursue status. In the present research, we refined the original dominance and prestige account and the respective self-report scale and conceptualized and assessed both variables as stable self-concept facets. By doing so, we extended the explanatory power of the model. Four studies (total N = 1,993) showed good psychometric properties for the newly developed dominance and prestige questionnaire (DPQ). Both dominance and prestige showed high temporal stability. In testing associations with 72 personality variables and 14 objective criteria, nomological and criterion validity were supported. For the first time, the concepts were shown to predict friendship satisfaction. Further, in testing a truth and bias model, we found high self-other agreement for both self-concept facets. Thus, self-perceptions of dominance and prestige proved to be stable, valid, accurate, and relevant in contexts beyond leadership. Future research concerning the self-perception of these concepts could test the relevance of dominance and prestige in additional spheres of life (e.g. families, academia).
... As men are, on average, taller than women, this means that women can be at a perceptional disadvantage. Blaker et al. (2013) have done related height research and come to the conclusion that height is one of the unconscious predicaments for leadership. They base the positive height influence on leadership qualities as a by-product of evolution, as tall leaders are perceived as more intelligent, healthy, and protective. ...
Through globalization and cultural awareness, more focus has been set on gender-related issues and the treatment of women throughout the world. Particular research attention has focused on the achievements and setbacks of female leaders as a major aspect of global organizations’ success. The purpose of this qualitative comparative phenomenological study was to analyze the relationship between culture and gender in leadership, specifically with female leaders in Germany and Iran. The study aimed to get insights into the cultural challenges and opportunities women face in gaining access to leadership positions in these two countries. Cultural aspects and the symbiotic acceptance of gender-specific traits were analyzed in relation to effective leadership in order to describe and document the perceptions of female leaders in Germany and Iran. Female leaders from Germany and Iran were interviewed to share their experiences regarding challenges, opportunities, cultural perceptions of their roles, and, finally, their best practices of how to overcome the barriers. By clustering the participants’ responses into themes and sub-themes and with the application of thematic coding, the research obtained a reflection of female leaders’ experiences in Germany and Iran. Study participants agreed that leadership is difficult and had challenges for all women, even more for women in Iran where structural barriers are more apparent. Agreement was achieved regarding male dominance in both cultures and the support men receive in management positions. Women often have to work harder and are missing the feeling of belonging. Participants agreed that women who are naturally competitive may have fewer challenges in leadership positions. Women seek mentorship; however, while this exists in Germany, the concept is missing in Iran. German women incorporate their organization’s mission statement and ethical values into their own work, and Iranian women consider themselves more ethical. While legal and corporate structures in Germany are working toward incorporating women into the workforce, these structures do not exist in Iran. Germany prefers the sustainable leadership style in combination with transformational leadership. Iranian leaders are drawn toward servant leadership. The result of the study demonstrates that culture is related to the challenges women face in leadership positions. While opportunities have a cultural correlation, they differ based on the societal expectations of females. Last but not least, women in both countries are able to develop their best practices with different leadership styles. Keywords: gender, gender diversity, culture, cultural diversity, cultures, leadership, Iran, Germany, servant leadership, Sustainable leadership, virtual leadership, transformational leadership, female leaders
... This work points to a robust role of person-level attributes including gender and age (Neubert & Taggar, 2004); physical attributes including height, strength, physical size, and athletic prowess (Blaker et al., 2013;Blaker & van Vugt, 2014;Cheng & Tracy, 2014;Lukaszewski et al., 2016); personality traits including narcissism, extraversion, conscientiousness, and trait dominance (Anderson & Cowan, 2014;Anderson & Kilduff, 2009;Anderson et al., 2001Anderson et al., , 2020Bendersky & Shah, 2013;Brunell et al., 2008;Judge et al., 2002); task-relevant skill or expert knowledge and cognitive abilities (Cheng & Tracy, 2014;Henrich & Gil-White, 2001;Lord et al., 1986;Reichard et al., 2011;Thomas & Hirschfeld, 2015); and relational capital including alliance formation and centrality in the social network (Anderson et al., 2020;Mullen et al., 1991;von Rueden, 2014). ...
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Illuminating the nature of leadership and followership requires insights into not only how leaders and followers behave, but also the different cognitions that underpin these social relationships. We argue that the roots of leader and follower roles and status asymmetries often lie in basic mental processes such as attention and visual perception. To understand not only how but also why leaders’ and followers’ behavioral patterns vary, we focus here on underpinning attentional processes that often drive rank-based behaviors. Methodologically, this focus on basic attentional and perceptual processes lessens the reliance on self-report and questionnaire-based data, and expands our scientific understanding to actual, real-world leadership dynamics. Here, we review the available evidence indicating that leaders and followers differ in whether and how they receive, direct, and pay visual attention. Our review brings together diverse empirical evidence from organization science, primatology, and social, developmental, and cognitive psychology on eye gaze, attention, and status in adults, children, and non-human primates. Based on this review of the cross-disciplinary literature, we propose future directions and research questions that this attention-based approach can generate for illuminating the puzzle of leadership and followership.
... Instead, SHR and height independently predicted fighting ability. The effects of height and SHR on perceptions of attractiveness, masculinity, and fighting ability found in Study 4 dovetail with the results from the previous research showing that women prefer taller men, and men with larger SHR (Braun & Bryan, 2006;Dixson et al., 2007aDixson et al., , 2007bDixson et al., , 2010Furnham & Nordling, 1998;Mautz et al., 2013;Nettle, 2002;Pawlowski et al., 2000;Pazhoohi et al., 2019a;Sell et al., 2017;Tovée et al., 1999), possibly because these traits signal men's genetic fitness, resource holding power, and social status (Blaker et al., 2013;Ellis, 1994;Fessler et al., 2012;Mueller & Mazur, 2001;Pazhoohi et al., 2019b;Sell et al., 2009;Stulp et al., 2015). ...
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Previous research has shown that men's height and upper body size are both associated with the perception of attractiveness, because they might be cues to men's genetic fitness, fighting ability, and resource holding power. However, the combined effects of men's height and upper body size have not been explored. In this research, across four studies (N = 659 heterosexual women), we systematically explored the perception of men's muscular upper body at different heights on perceptions of attractiveness, masculinity, and fighting ability. Women rated male stimuli with heights ranging from 160 cm (5′3″) to 190 cm (6′3″) and three values of shoulder-to-hip ratio (SHR). In general, results showed that women considered taller men and men with larger SHR as more attractive, masculine, and better in fighting ability. However, a robust interaction between height and SHR was dependent on participants being exposed to variation on both variables and the ecological validity of the stimuli (silhouettes vs. more realistic rendered figures).
... This may well explain our enduring preference for leaders who appear to exhibit such qualities now, where the leadership tasks can be very different to those in the distant past. Studies on selecting leaders suggest individuals prefer leaders who are male (Elsesser & Lever, 2011), perceived as being taller based on their actual height or facial height (Blaker et al., 2013;Re et al., 2013a;Re et al., 2013b;Stulp et al., 2012) and who are perceived as healthier based on the way they move (Kramer et al., 2010). ...
... Whites (88%) and American Indians (100%) were overwhelmingly tall. As tallness can be associated with power, this portrayal could play into unequal power dynamics, placing many minorities in a marginalized space on screen (Blaker et al., 2013). ...
Research has demonstrated the existence of weight and gender bias targeting women and overweight individuals, which may result in barriers to advancement and poor emotional well-being. The purpose of this study was to examine the interaction effect of weight status and gender on the evaluation of politicians. A total of 184 undergraduate students (65.8% women) participated in this study in exchange for course credit. Upon informed consent, they were randomly assigned into one of two conditions and accordingly shown pictures of politicians with an overweight or a non-overweight status. Each politician was then rated on a 10-point Likert scale for the following characteristics: attractiveness, likelihood to be voted, physical health, intelligence, mental health, leadership, and trustworthiness. A mixed factorial ANOVA revealed an interaction effect of sex and weight status on six of the seven traits: attractiveness, likelihood to be voted, physical health, intelligence, mental health, and leadership (range of ps ≤ 0.001 to .043). Contrary to expectations, overweight male politicians were rated lowest on these characteristics. Findings provided insights in understanding the impact of weight and gender on how politicians are evaluated. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.
This review seeks to enrich our understanding of how a leader's status influences leadership outcomes such as motivation to lead, leader emergence and perceived leader effectiveness. The focus is on the leader's diffuse status, i.e., status derived from demographic (e.g., gender and race) and physical (e.g., height and body shape) characteristics. Drawing insights from empirical findings and their theoretical underpinnings, we (1) highlight the need to explicitly model the leader's diffuse status as a mediator in the relationship between leader demographic and physical characteristics and leadership outcomes, (2) differentiate the effects of the leader's diffuse status as perceived by others (interpersonal level) and the leader's diffuse status as perceived by the leader (intrapersonal level) and (3) synthesise a wide range of contextual factors that influence the degree to which the leader's demographic and physical characteristics affect leadership outcomes through the leader's diffuse status. Moreover, we explain how other status types, such as status derived from the leader's position in the organisational hierarchy and status related to task-relevant leader characteristics, can moderate the effects of the leader's diffuse status. Finally, we discuss the utility of our proposed integrative framework for researchers and practitioners and outline promising future research opportunities.
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In one vision of human success, future human evolution lies in enhancing our bodies and especially our minds, in order to achieve new levels of cooperation, morality, and wellbeing. In unadulterated form, this vision combines a pessimism in the human evolutionary heritage with an optimism in what technological enhancement could offer. I point to a crucial blind spot: the role the social and cultural environment has played and continues to play in human evolution. In particular, I emphasize how enhancement technologies are co-opted in the competition for social status. When this is taken into consideration, the vision of techno-libertarian success seems both less appealing and less plausible. In closing I identify two desiderata for the concept of human success in the future.
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Global leadership has been identified as a critical success factor for large multinational corporations. While there is much writing on the topic, most seems to be either general advice (i.e., being open minded and respectful of other cultures) or very specific information about a particular country based on a limited case study (do not show the soles of your shoes when seated as a guest in an Arab country). Both kinds of information are certainly useful, but limited from both theoretical and practical viewpoints on how to lead in a foreign country. In this paper, findings from the Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness (GLOBE) research program are used to provide a sound basis for conceptualizing worldwide leadership differences. We use a hypothetical case of an American executive in charge of four similar teams in Brazil, France, Egypt, and China to discuss cultural implications for the American executive. Using the hypothetical case involving five different countries allows us to provide in-depth action oriented and context specific advice, congruent with GLOBE findings, for effectively interacting with employees from different cultures. We end the paper with a discussion of the challenges facing global executives and how corporations can develop useful global leadership capabilities. A lmost no American corporation is immune from the impact of globalization. The reality for American corporations is that they must increasingly cope with diverse cross-cultural employees , customers, suppliers, competitors, and creditors, a situation well captured by the following quote.
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Standardized measures of intelligence, ability, or achievement are all measures of acquired knowledge and skill and have consistent relationships with multiple facets of success in life, including academic and job performance. Five persistent beliefs about ability tests have developed, including: (a) that there is no relationship with important outcomes like creativity or leadership, (b) that there is predictive bias, (c) that there is a lack of predictive independence from socioeconomic status, (d) that there are thresholds beyond which scores cease to matter, and (e) that other characteristics, like personality, matter as well. We present the evidence and conclude that of these five beliefs, only the importance of personality is a fact; the other four are fiction.
Cognitive ability in selection decisions Intelligence testing has had a checkered history in psychological sciences. Several terms such as cognitive ability, general mental ability , and g factor have been used in the literature (Viswesvaran & Ones, 2002). In this chapter, we use the term cognitive ability to refer to these concepts generically, and we reserve the term general mental ability (GMA) to refer to the general factor that spans these measures. GMA is a general informationprocessing capacity and is extracted as a general factor (the first unrotated factor) from a battery of specific ability tests. 1 It is closely associated with reasoning and judgment abilities (see Chapter 21 , this volume). A century of scientific research has shown that GMA is predictive of socioeconomic status, academic achievement, health-related behaviors, social outcomes, occupational status, and even death (Brand, 1987). Ree and Carretta (2002) note that GMA predicts a wide range ...
Identity, leadership categorization, and leadership schema Leadership, identity, and social power are dynamically intertwined in a process that unfolds as group members interact and establish a status structure. In the current chapter we highlight the role that leaders’ and followers’ cognitive structures play in this process, and the implications of current knowledge about the nature of mental representations of the self and others for understanding leadership and the use of power. In particular, we focus on the role of shifting identities as a means of explaining differences in leadership perceptions and effectiveness. At the core of our approach is a belief that the cognitive mechanisms that determine the thoughts and actions of both leaders and followers must share fundamental similarities. A key concept that underlies much of this chapter is that of leadership perceptions. Leadership perceptions refer to an assessment made by observers, or by potential leaders themselves, that the ...
Following evolutionary psychology, we argue that physical stature matters in preferences regarding political leadership. Particularly, a preference for physically formidable leaders evolved to promote survivability in the violent human ancestral history. We present two studies of original data to assess individual attitudes regarding the association between physical stature and political leadership. Analytical methods include ordered probit regression. The findings are consistent with the evolutionary theory presented here. Study 1 indicates that individuals tend to prefer leaders with greater physical stature, while Study 2 indicates that males with greater physical stature are more likely to think of themselves as qualified to be a leader and, through this increased sense of efficacy, they are more likely to demonstrate interest in pursuing a leadership position. Consistent with emerging evidence from other research perspectives, political behavior, in this case preferences regarding political leadership, is shaped by both environmental and evolutionary forces.