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People Who Talk a Lot Tend to Be Perceived as Leaders, Even If They're Not That Smart

Sounds familiar. 
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According to a new study aiming to prove the “babble hypothesis” of leadership, people who tend to speak more are often perceived as the leaders of the group, regardless of intelligence or any other factors. The study published in The Leadership Quarterly is diving into group dynamics, particularly the trend of choosing leaders based on the quantity of their chatter, not their quality. 

“It turns out that early attempts to assess leadership quality were found to be highly confounded with a simple quantity: the amount of time that group members spoke during a discussion,” said researcher and lead author Neil MacLaren from Binghamton University. 

The study involved 256 students divided into 33 groups, who had to work together to solve select team tasks. Before and after the tasks, participants were asked to nominate a leader, and most chose the participants that had the most to say. 

“We usually think of leadership as being very content-driven—someone says important things, so we follow them—yet here was pretty consistent evidence that people seemed to attribute leadership to people who ‘babbled,’ or just spoke a lot,” said MacLaren. "Trying to understand this relationship between speaking time and attributions of leadership seemed like an important step in understanding group dynamics more generally.” 

Of course, it’s important to remember the limitations of the study: the groups were made up of strangers who made judgments based on first impressions. Participants weren’t given resumes, neither were they given enough time to witness whether or not the appointed leaders backed their talk with actions. 

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But what the study did accomplish is proving the assumption that, in cases of leadership and first impressions, quantity really does trump quality. An important tidbit to remember as we'll soon enter a period of plenty of chatter: the elections. 

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Anri Ichimura
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