Some people spend their lives trying to intimidate and dominate others

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I was at am meeting yesterday and one of the participants spent the whole time trying to intimidate and dominate those in attendance. Sadly, most others at the meeting seemed to actually be intimidated by him and would have let him take control; unfortunately, I have something in my genes that just won’t let me be a bystander in such circumstances, so it got quite heated for a while I have to say. Anyway the point of this is not to talk about me, but rather to make an important point about these sort of domineering individuals.

This idea of attempting to dominate others intrigues me, so I am always on the watch out to try to better understand what pushes people to be like that and why they get away with it.  I came across an interesting study entitled, Why do dominant personalities attain influence in face-to-face groups? The competence-signalling effects of trait dominance, which was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2009 and it is fairly relevant here. It reported on fascinating research conducted by Cameron Anderson and Gavin Kilduff from the University of California, Berkeley and offers some valuable insights which have a direct correlation to how some people think and behave.

Using two simulated work related experiments, and controlling for a number of variables which might have influenced the results, Anderson and Kilduff showed that, in group situations, the more dominant individuals consistently exerted higher levels of influence over other the remaining participants.  In the first exercise, 68 graduate students were divided into four-person, single sex teams and given a fictitious task of organising a non-profit environmental organization. After the teams performed their work for a fixed period, the members of each group rated one another on both their level of influence on the group and, more importantly, their level of competence. The work sessions were videotaped, and a group of independent observers performed the same evaluations, as did Anderson and Kilduff themselves.

Following the first exercise, all three sets of judges came to the same conclusions. Consistently, it was those who spoke more frequently and offered more suggestions that were subsequently perceived by the other members of the group, plus the independent observers, as being the most competent; nothing too surprising there perhaps. However, what was most interesting in the study was that dominant characters continued to rate highest, even when the suggestions they made were no better, and sometimes far worse, than others.

In a second study, conducted with a new team of volunteers but following the same team format as previously, the exercise was based on the ability to solve maths problems; the idea being that some degree of competence would be required in maths to enable participants to speak up and as such it was assumed this would influence who became the dominant players within the groups. Yet again, the researchers found that those who spoke up most were subsequently described by their peers as leaders and were considered to be the maths experts in the groups. But, the researchers proved that these dominant individuals were not in fact the smartest, or the ones who offered the most correct answers. What they did do was offer the most answers.

In a nutshell, this study highlighted that the more dominant or intelligent an individual appears to be, the more likely their peers are to assign attributes of leadership and competence to them. A lot of people, in my experience, work from similar beliefs about dominance; they know that if they project themselves as the strongest or brightest person around, then few will challenge them. For them, it is all about winning and losing and they do not like losing.

Anyway, enjoy your day!

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