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Health Trumps Intelligence When Picking Leaders

Update Date: Nov 05, 2014 07:40 PM EST
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People prefer brawn to brains when choosing leaders. New research reveals that people prefer leaders their leaders to look healthy and dense.

The latest study reveal that people don't choose the most intelligent-looking candidates except for positions that require negotiation between groups or exploration of new markets.

The latest study involved 148 participants who were asked to imagine that they were selecting a new CEO for a company and to repeatedly pick between two photos of male faces. Participants were given a job description that detailed the CEO's main challenge: drive aggressive competition, renegotiate a key partnership with another company, lead the company's shift into a new market, or oversee the stable, sustained exploitation of non-renewable energy.

Researchers noted that the photographs were of the same man. However, his face had been digitally altered to look more or less intelligent and his skin tone was changed to look more or less healthy.

The findings revealed that participants preferred more healthy-looking faces to less healthy-looking faces in 69 percent of trials, regardless of the CEO's main challenge. However, people only preferred more intelligent-looking faces for two challenges that would require the most diplomacy and inventiveness.

"Here we show that it always pays for aspiring leaders to look healthy, which explains why politicians and executives often put great effort, time, and money in their appearance. If you want to be chosen for a leadership position, looking intelligent is an optional extra under context-specific situations whereas the appearance of health appears to be important in a more context-general way across a variety of situations," lead author Brian Spisak, Assistant Professor at the Department of Management and Organization of VU University Amsterdam, said in a news release.

The findings are published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

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