When we used the California Q-Sort (CAQ; Block, 1961, 2008) to evaluate various leaders for our last study, the last thing we expected was for our four U.S. Army Generals to pop up as universally “sexy” or “attractive” but “risky” as relationship prospects among our female participants, yet that’s exactly what happened. All of our female participants cited finding the generals attractive, even though they wouldn’t necessarily want anything to do with them. Odd? Perhaps. But explainable.
The California Q-Sort (CAQ) started as a tool for psychologists to standardize their subjective evaluations of patients, but has evolved as a method for quantifying first impressions of subjects in research, and using that quantification of personality to develop a personality profile. This system has participant observers sort 100 validated personality traits into most and least characteristic categories. Check out the Block publications for more information on how this works. The end result is a highly reliable, highly correlated personality profile.
As part of our family research, we’ve been using the CAQ to evaluate first impressions of various categories of leaders. We added four U.S. Army Generals – GEN H. Norman Schwarzkopf, GEN Stanley McChrystal, GEN David Petraeus, and GEN John P. Abizaid – to the latest mix, and discovered that not only did these four men fit into the leader profile we developed, but they shared seven of the top “most characteristic traits” and seven of the “least characteristic” traits. There were some differences that were also interesting, with our generals popping up much higher on the ethics scale than the other leaders. Traits such as “makes moral judgments,” “behaves ethically, has a personal value system,” and “is dependable and responsible” showed up as “most characteristic” traits for our generals, while they were much farther down the list for some of our other leaders.
Then we came to the comments. The “sexy but scary” comments written in by our female participants made us laugh. Then they made us think. Why would women find these guys attractive but want nothing to do with them?
Turns out there’s a pretty simple biological answer for this: testosterone. Most of our generals pop high on the characteristics indicative of testosterone – dominance behaviors, square jaws, shape of brows, etc. Testosterone is indicative of genetic health in men (Ellis and Nyborg, 1992) and biologically, women know this and find it attractive. From this standpoint, since our generals are sporting all kinds of traits indicative of genetic health, it’s not surprising that our female participants found them attractive. But why would they find them risky as relationship prospects?
Reference the Booth and Dabbs study on testosterone and marital success rates (Booth & Dabbs, 1993), men with high testosterone are a much higher risk for marital infidelity. Biologically, women also know this, and are typically wary of such men.
The highly traditional environment the Army creates has definitely muted this aspect of the four generals we studied – they’re all in long-term marriages – but given the recent brouhaha over other examples of high testosterone (ahem Schwarzenegger cough cough), we can see that there’s still a basis for this biological reaction.
We’ve published our results of Q-Sorting social media influencers already and are working on putting together another series of papers on our further leadership personality findings. Interested? Stay tuned for more on this subject!
For more information:
Block, J. The Q-sort in character appraisal: Encoding subjective impressions of persons quantitatively. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2008.
Block, J. The Q-sort Method in Personality Assessment and Psychiatric Research. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1961.
Booth and Dabbs. “Testosterone and Men’s Marriages,” Social Forces, vol. 72, no. 2, Dec 1993.
D’Alessandro, D. Career Warfare: 10 Rules for Building A Successful Personal Brand and Fighting to Keep It. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004.
Ellis, and Nyborg. “Racial/ethnic variations in male testosterone levels: a probable contributor to group differences in health,” Steroids, vol. 57, issue 2, Feb 1992, pp. 72-75.
Freberg, K., Graham, K., Freberg, L. “Leaders or Snakes in Suits: Perceptions of Today’s CEOs.” APS, 2010. Not yet published.
Freberg, K., Graham, K, McGaughey, K., and Freberg, L. ”Who are the social media influencers? A study of public perceptions of personality.” Public Relations Review, vol. 37, issue 1, March 2011, pp. 90-92.
Goldberg, L.R. “Man vs. Model of Man: a rationale, plus some evidence, for a method of improving on clinical inferences.” Psychological Bulletin, 73, 442-432 (1970).
Nichols, T., & Holmes, A. “Nonparametric Permutation Tests for Functional Neuroimaging: A Primer with Examples.” Human Brain Mapping, 15(1), 1-25, 2001.