New social science research offers a glimpse into the inner workings of impressive people with findings that help explain what makes some individuals more charismatic than others.
The secret? They’re quick thinkers.
The study, led by William von Hippel at the University of Queensland in Australia, featured two experiments involving a total of 417 participants. All participants took intelligence and personality tests; they also had friends rate them on how charismatic and socially skilled they were.
To measure charisma, the researchers asked the friends how charismatic, funny, and quick-witted the participants were. To measure social skills, they asked the friends whether the participants were good at handling conflict, comfortable in a range of social settings, and good at interpreting feelings.
Finally, the researchers set out to measure the participants’ mental speed. In the first experiment, participants were asked to respond to a series of prompts, such as “name a precious gem” and researchers measured how long it took them to answer.
In the second experiment, participants had to indicate on which side of the computer screen a dot appeared and whether pairs of patterns were the same or different. Again, researchers measured how quickly participants reacted.
Results showed that the quickest thinkers were also the most charismatic — even when researchers took IQ and personality traits out of the equation.
However, contrary to the researchers’ expectations, mental speed didn’t predict the other social skills that participants were rated on.
It’s unclear exactly why and how mental speed facilitates charisma. But, as the researchers write, “access to a wider repertoire of social responses within an appropriate response window would seem to be a likely candidate.”
In other words, quick thinkers may be able to rapidly assess a situation and figure out how exactly they should behave to gain other people’s favour. Future research is necessary to see if this theory holds up.
As for those who want to become more charismatic, the good news is it may be possible to develop your cognitive abilities over time. One study found that young adults who played a popular brain-training game for a month increased their information-processing speed. Still, right now though there’s no evidence that learning to think faster will translate to increased charisma.
In the short term, research suggests you can cultivate charisma by using concrete instead of abstract language and expressing feelings genuinely.
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