Washington, October 31 : A team of University of Kent researchers has shown that the selection of male or female group leaders may depend upon specific situations that the members face.
Psychologists Mark Van Vugt and Brian R. Spisak made volunteers participate in an investment game to see whether gender influences the selection of group leaders during various group competition situations.
Each volunteer was given six dollars, any of that amount could be invested into a group fund, with the volunteer keeping the rest for themselves. The participants were told that they would receive a bonus if the group fund exceeded a certain amount.
Before beginning the game, the participants were assigned to a specific experimental condition: intragroup competition wherein their performance in the game would be compared to others in their group, intergroup competition wherein their group's performance would be compared to that of other groups, or a control condition wherein the members were not provided with any information about competition.
The researchers presented the participants with two candidates-one male and one female-and asked them to vote for one of the them to serve as their group's leader.
Immediately the game started, half of the volunteers were told that their group had elected a female leader, and the remaining volunteers were told their group would have a male leader.
Writing about their findings in the journal Psychological Science, the researchers revealed that females were more often chosen as leaders of the intragroup condition, while males were preferred to lead intergroup situations.
They further said that females were also viewed as being more effective than males in maintaining intragroup relationships.
In the control condition, males and females were equally selected as leaders.
The team also observed that investments in the group fund were higher in the intragroup condition when there was a female leader, while there was more money invested in the group fund in the presence of a male leader in the intergroup condition.
The authors of the study believe that such findings are the result of the way human society has evolved: men have traditionally been more involved in combat and war (intergroup conflict), while women were viewed as being more effective in maintaining positive relationships within the group (intragroup).
The authors write: "Such engendered leadership prototypes are a residual of human evolutionary history that still affects the way people evaluate and respond to leadership in society today."
They, however, insist that such leadership prototypes might have been in place prior to human evolution, for chimpanzees also exhibit similar gendered leadership standards-the males are in charge of patrolling group boundaries and the females maintain the peace within their group.
The authors noted that such prototypes "emerge from a combination of evolved decision rules and culture specific gender role stereotypes."