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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2009 Feb;96(2):491-503. doi: 10.1037/a0014201.

Why do dominant personalities attain influence in face-to-face groups? The competence-signaling effects of trait dominance.

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  • 1Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-1900, USA.


Individuals high in the personality trait dominance consistently attain high levels of influence in groups. Why they do is unclear, however, because most group theories assert that people cannot attain influence simply by behaving assertively and forcefully; rather, they need to possess superior task abilities and leadership skills. In the present research, the authors proposed that individuals high in trait dominance attain influence because they behave in ways that make them appear competent--even when they actually lack competence. Two studies examined task groups using a social relations analysis of peer perceptions (D. A. Kenny & L. LaVoie, 1984). The authors found that individuals higher in trait dominance were rated as more competent by fellow group members, outside peer observers, and research staff members, even after controlling for individuals' actual abilities. Furthermore, frequency counts of discrete behaviors showed that dominance predicts the enactment of competence-signaling behaviors, which in turn predicts peer ratings of competence. These findings extend researchers' understanding of trait dominance, hierarchies in groups, and perceptions of competence and abilities.

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