Professor in Evolutionary Psychology, Work and Organizational Psychology


Leadership and status

facing the situation

Spsiak, B., Homan, A., Grabo, A., & Van Vugt, M. (2011). Facing the situation: Testing a biosocial contingency model of leadership in intergroup relations using masculine and feminine faces, 

The Leadership Quarterly,  23, 273-280.



Using an evolutionary psychology framework we propose that leadership and followership are
evolved traits to solve recurrent group coordination problems.We argue that adaptive problems
such as those concerning intergroup conflict or cooperation activate different cognitive leadership
prototypes, and the face conveys diagnostic information about the suitability and emergence of
intergroup leadership. Consistentwith hypotheseswe find that followers expect masculine-faced
leaders to behave competitively and feminine-faced leaders cooperatively in intergroup relations.
Furthermore, individuals prefer leaders whose facial cues match the adaptive problem. For
example, a masculine-looking leader is preferred in a competitive intergroup setting. Also, this
match between face and situation is reinforced with a consistent leadership message such as a
masculine-looking leader expressing the need for competition. An evolutionary perspective
provides a deeper understanding of the biological aspects of leadership and generates many novel
hypotheses about how markers such as the human face affect leadership emergence and

Copyright © 2012– Mark van Vugt