The Evolutionary Psychology of Leadership Trait Perception

  • Kristen Knowles


Many researchers now approach the understanding of how facial characteristics shape the perception of leadership ability through the lens of human evolution. This approach considers what skills and characteristics would have been valuable for leaders to possess in our evolutionary history, including dominance, masculinity, and trustworthiness. Moreover, it gives an understanding about why rapid categorisation of these social cues from faces is adaptive. In this chapter, I present evolutionary arguments for social inferences based on faces, and discuss how our understanding of this categorisation has shifted away from purely associative phenomena towards evolved, innate processes. I explain how the perception of leadership ability in faces is linked to variance in facial morphology, and how these morphologies tell us something about the individuals who carry them. Specific facial cues relating to leadership-relevant traits are discussed, as well as the underlying biological systems that accompany these traits. I also explain the importance of context and individual differences on the prioritisation of seemingly disparate facial cues to leadership: dominance and trustworthiness. I also discuss recent findings in this area which further extend these concepts to examine cues to leadership in women’s faces, generally overlooked by evolutionary psychologists, and how political ideology can interact with these effects.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Queen Margaret UniversityMusselburghUK

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