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Overweight Men Perceived to Be More Persuasive, Study Finds

“Being an overweight man may offer some benefits in terms of perceived leadership potential. However, these benefits do not apply to women.

A recently published research article from Cornell University found that “weight among men is positively associated with perceived persuasiveness.” In other words, overweight men in a workplace are thought to be more persuasive than average-sized men, the study finds. Given the negative stigma around being overweight, this finding is surprising.

Assessing physical characteristics that make a superior leader is an enduring area of study among academics such as Malcolm Gladwell, who concluded in his book Blink that tall men are significantly overrepresented among Fortune 500 CEOs. Since persuasiveness is widely considered another crucial factor in leadership ability, this news can be broadly interpreted as welcome news for men of higher weight.

The Findings:

The authors of the study write:

“While the ‘big man’ leadership concept is based on studies of pre-industrial societies where weight embodied status, our findings suggest an evolved bias to favor moderately big men–with respect to perceived persuasiveness–even in environments where there is no reason to interpret over-consumption of food and conservation of energy as a signal of wealth.”

Basically, before the Industrial Revolution made food cheaply available for most everybody in society, it would have made sense that others looked to larger-than-average men for leadership, because their waistline suggested that they must be doing something right in the competition for finite calorific resources.

However, the same findings do not apply to women.

What about women?

Interestingly, this same assumption was not made about women of greater body mass. However, one of the experiments showed that “that heavier women tend to be expected ceteris paribus to have a better sense of humor.”

In other words, there is an expectation that women of above-average-weight have a better sense of humor than other women. Moreover, the studies show that:

“…extra weight is not an asset for women in relation to persuasiveness. In that regard, our detection of opposite biases for men and women affirms the conventional focus on weight’s potential for stigmatizing people.”

But they also remind us that while these findings can be interpreted as a bit of good news for larger men among us:

“…our studies do invite closer recognition of benefits that might accrue alongside costs when people carry above-normal weight.”

However, if you are a man of average weight, the authors of the study warn not take these findings as a call to put on extra pounds with the hope of becoming more persuasive.

As with all studies in the social sciences, these findings should be further examined and scrutinized before any formal conclusions can be drawn.

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