If you want to rise to the top of the corporate ladder, you better put down the candy and make sure you're eating a healthy diet, new research suggests.
Rather than looking for the most intelligent-looking leaders, people searching for candidates to run their organization prefer those with a healthy complexion, according to a study recently published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
For the study, researchers examined people's implicit preferences for traits of leaders, such as health, intelligence and attractiveness, and how they look for information about these qualities in the physical appearance of others.
Brian Spisak, the study's lead author and an assistant professor at VU University Amsterdam, said the research team discovered that it almost always pays for aspiring leaders to look healthy.
That finding "explains why politicians and executives often put great effort, time and money in their appearance," Spisak said in a statement. "If you want to be chosen for a leadership position, looking intelligent is an optional extra under context-specific situations, whereas the appearance of health appears to be important in a more context-general way across a variety of situations."
As part of the study, researchers asked 148 women and men to imagine that they were selecting a new CEO for a company, and to pick one of two photos of male faces. For each choice, the participants were given a job description that specified the CEO's main challenge, which was to either drive aggressive competition, renegotiate a key partnership with another company, lead the company's shift into a new market, or oversee the stable, sustained exploitation of non-renewable energy.
In each choice, both photos were of the same man. His face, however, had been digitally transformed to look more or less intelligent, while his complexion was changed to look healthier or less healthy. For the photos, researchers used a specially designed software program to create appearances of healthy looking and intelligent looking men. In addition, they study's authors also had two groups of study participants rate each photo on health, intelligence, masculinity, and attractiveness to determine which ones were the most and least healthy and intelligent.
The study's authors discovered a stronger general preference for health than intelligence. Specifically, the study's participants selected the healthier-looking faces over the less healthy one 69 percent of the time. Their preference was equally strong regardless of the scenario that was presented with the photo.
The researchers found that the more intelligent-looking candidates were preferred only in situations that required diplomacy and inventiveness - for instance, for renegotiating partnerships and exploring new markets.
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