Men with muscly physiques are perceived as possessing stronger leadership skills than their skinnier colleagues, a new study shows.
While intelligence and level-headedness might seem more important for people wishing to exude management potential, researchers at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business identified an overwhelming connection between physical prowess and high status.
For the published study, titled 'The role of physical formidability in human social status allocation', a selection of men underwent strength tests before being photographed. Volunteers were then shown and told they were looking at candidates newly hired by a consultancy firm.
Next they were asked to rate each man based on how much they admired him, held him in high esteem, how much they could imagine his career progressing, and how he might respond to others in his company.
“The physically strong men in the pictures were given higher status because they are perceived as leaders,” said Professor Cameron Anderson, who led the study with Professor Aaron Lukaszewski. “Our findings are consistent with a lot of real examples of strong men in positions of power.”
To ensure that men weren't being chosen based on good looks, the volunteers - roughly a 50/50 split between men and women - were also asked to rate each candidate's "overall attractiveness". The men photographed were also each dressed in identical plain white tank tops so that clothing choice did not influence results.
After that initial experiment, researchers used Photoshop to switch the heads on each body. In this round, volunteers again favoured stronger bodies – even if they were attached to a 'weak' face.
It may be assumed that any connection between bodily strength and leadership is a consequence of intimidating weaker colleagues with over-the-top, macho acts of masculinity, but the opposite may in fact be true.
"Strong men who were perceived as being likely to behave aggressively toward other group members were actually granted less status than their apparently gentler counterparts,” Lukaszewski says.
“Together, 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."
Berkeley’s results, which are only applicable to men (no link was found between female leadership and physical strength), are in part reflected on the political stage.
Russian president Vladimir Putin would certainly see his strapping figure as an example of the findings – though with height a factor, his case is weakened by being only 5ft 7in. Barack Obama, meanwhile, who keeps his 6ft 2in frame lean with regular basketball, may be a more convincing case study.
Not all is lost for diminutive, physically feeble leaders, however. While the gym may boost one's chances of being seen as capable, Professor Cameron insists it isn't the only thing.
"If you’re behaving in ways that demonstrate you are a leader or are not a leader, strength doesn’t matter," he says.