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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
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,
Article
437211 XXX10.1177/1368430212437211Blaker et al.Group Processes & Intergroup Relations
2012
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.
Email: NM.Blaker@psy.vu.nl
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
Abstract
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.
Keywords
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
perception
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.
Method
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.
Procedure
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.
Results
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
Male
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)
Female
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.
Discussion
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). ...
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