Friends of the Nonverbal Communication Blog, this week we present the paper “Perception of emergent leaders’ faces and evolution of social cheating: cross-cultural experiments” by Rostovsteva, V. V.; Mezentseva, A. A. and Butovskaya, M. L. (2022), in which authors carry out a study to know whether the appearance of the face is a source of real information about people’s leadership skills.
From an evolutionary point of view, it is assumed that leaders will be the ones who must act in the interest of the group and facilitate coordination among group members to achieve the common good.
Some empirical studies suggest that deception can also occur in the context of human leadership, which, in turn, is closely related to the specific personality traits of each leader.
For example, people who score high in Machiavellianism in personality tests are usually perceived by others as charismatic and good leaders, and tend to occupy top management positions, especially in companies with a short track record. On the contrary, in the long term, these leaders have a detrimental effect on the careers and well-being of their followers.
In an earlier study by the same authors, where a game (based on the Public Goods Game, or iPGG) was used in which three types of leadership were revealed: first, those non-leaders; then, those with prosocial leadership; finally, those identified as leader-cheaters.
The analysis of this study revealed that each of these behaviors had a set of distinctive personality, communication and cooperation characteristics. Both prosocial and cheater-leaders were equally followed by other group members, in 88% of the cases, indicating the existence of successful communicative strategies for both types of leaders, even the cheaters, which probably allowed them to generate a sense of trust in others, despite actual deceptive intentions. This study prior to the one at hand was conducted with young Buryats from southern Siberia, a group of traditional herders of Mongolian origin.
The present study was designed to extend previous findings. The authors posed several questions, such as: do the neutral faces of the individuals have common characteristics that define them in one group or another, if so what physical and behavioral traits are attributed to each group, among others.
It was hypothesized that observers could differentiate leadership potential and leadership styles by certain physical and behavioral characteristics based on static facial information alone, and, on the other hand, the authors expected that leaders’ faces would be perceived as more masculine, stronger, dominant, and healthy compared to others.
In this study, prototype photographs were constructed from the faces of the participants in the first study. Specifically, a portrait of the non-leader, a portrait of the prosocial leader and a portrait of the leader-cheater were obtained by mixing the faces of all the participants in each group. We recall that these young people belonged to a particular ethnic group.
Then, a total of 104 young people were gathered, some of them were Russians and others were also part of the Buryat community in southern Siberia.
They divided the participants into groups. Each of the individuals in the groups had 20 tokens and among all the members they would have a common pool, which they would lose or gain depending on their opinions regarding the photographs obtained from the first study: they had to negotiate what it conveyed to them and why, and reach a consensus.
The results showed that living in a mixed-race social environment did not affect portrait judgments, as Russians did not differ from Buryats in portrait ratings or in the consistency of their judgments.
It appears that the characteristics that distinguish leader-cheaters and prosocial leaders are the shape of the eyes, lips, jaw, and eyebrows. Cheater-leaders have larger and rounder eyes, fuller lips, rounder jaw and more prominent eyebrows.
The study opens new perspectives for future research, calling for investigation of particular facial structures that may distinguish individuals with different leadership qualities. Authors recommend further study on the subject for even more conclusive insights.
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