Science Has Figured Out Why You Have The Hots For Your CEO

Elon musk kate beckinsaleREUTERS/Stephen LamTesla Motors Inc CEO Elon Musk

Researchers have solved the longstanding mystery of why you always think your company’s CEO is super hot and your friends just do. not. understand.*

Familiarity plays a role.

A team of researchers led by Kevin Kniffin at Cornell have a new paper out in Leadership Quarterly that finds that within groups, followers (or employees) find their leaders more physically attractive than the average person does.

There’s something of a debate in the science of attractiveness about whether familiarity with someone makes them more or less attractive to you. The authors think the two opposite conclusions might have something to do with how familiar you are with the person and how much you identify with them and perceive them as being like you (in your in-group, in sociology speak).

The researchers “found that people with strong ties to a group or organisation (say, a political party or a business) rate their own leaders much higher on a scale of physical attractiveness than do outsiders,” according to Kniffin, who wrote up his research in the Harvard Business Review Wednesday.

They tested this by asking whether leaders of a group are perceived as more physically attractive to their followers using legislative aides and political leaders in Wisconsin. Kniffin writes, “we chose legislative aides because they interact closely with legislators and they have a clear stake in the success of their leaders since the number of aide positions fluctuates as a function of which party has more power.”

Here’s a chart of the results:

Democrats rated Democratic leaders they were familiar with as most attractive (and Democrats they were less familiar with less attractive than even Republicans they were familiar with). The results for Republicans paralleled that of the Democrats.

The caveat here is that the research was conducted “within the month following hotly contested local elections,” which may have skewed the results.

The authors note this is important because it can sometimes be unclear why people choose leadership roles, from an academic perspective. Responsibility is a lot of work, and depending on the group we’re talking about, the monetary rewards might not be that high. From the implications section of the paper:

Our article also contributes to research concerning the “ultimate” question … of why people endure the costs of leadership since our studies suggest a non-obvious, nonmonetary benefit of being a leader (i.e., people tend to view leaders of their organisations as relatively more physically attractive).

They also conclude that this might have something to do with why people develop inter-office romances.

* I just made that up. But if you have a real life example of something related to this research, get in touch!

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