A study conducted by the University of California has shown that a muscular physique is an important attribute when it comes to judging a person’s leadership potential.
The paper, “The role of physical formidability in human social status allocation”, was recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Scientists conducted a series of experiments which measured the strength of subjects using a handheld, hydraulic Dynamometer that measures chest and arm strength in kilograms.
The subjects in the experiment were then photographed in T-shirts revealing shoulder, chest and arm muscles. These photographs were then shown to groups of people on a computer screen. Before the people saw the images, they were told that they would be rating people who had been recently hired by a new consulting firm. Subjects in the photographs were rated according to how much people admired them, held them in esteem and believed they would rise in status. Questions such as, “Do you think the person in the photograph would be a good leader?” and “How effective is this person dealing with other in a group?” were asked by the researchers.
The physically strong men in the photographs were given higher status because they were perceived as leaders by the participants in the experiment. To investigate the results further, the researchers used Photoshop to switch the bodies of the strong and weak subjects in the photographs. For example, a weak man’s head was depicted on a strong man’s body and vice versa. The result: participants rated the weak men with stronger, superimposed bodies higher in status and leadership qualities.
“The results suggest that the conferral of status upon formidable men, perhaps counter-intuitively, serves a fundamentally pro-social function — to enhance the effectiveness of cooperation within the group,” said Professor Aaron Lukaszewski, one of the authors of the study.
This phenomenon apparently applies to men only. There was little effect on participants’ perception of leadership skills when they were shown physically strong versus weak women.