Babble hypothesis shows key factor to becoming a leader

Those who talk the most tend to emerge as group leaders.

If you want to become a leader, start yammering. It doesn’t even necessarily matter what you say. New research shows that groups without a leader can find one if somebody starts talking a lot.

This phenomenon, described by the “babble hypothesis” of leadership, depends neither on group member intelligence nor personality. Leaders emerge based on the quantity of speaking, not quality.

Researcher Neil G. MacLaren, lead author of the study published in The Leadership Quarterly, believes his team’s work may improve how groups are organized and how individuals within them are trained and evaluated.

“It turns out that early attempts to assess leadership quality were found to be highly confounded with a simple quantity: the amount of time that group members spoke during a discussion,” shared MacLaren, who is a research fellow at Binghamton University.

While we tend to think of leaders as people who share important ideas, leadership may boil down to whoever “babbles” the most. Understanding the connection between how much people speak and how they become perceived as leaders is key to growing our knowledge of group dynamics.

The power of babble

The research involved 256 college students, divided into 33 groups of four to ten people each. They were asked to collaborate on either a military computer simulation game (BCT Commander) or a business-oriented game (CleanStart). The players had ten minutes to plan how they would carry out a task and 60 minutes to accomplish it as a group. One person in the group was randomly designated as the “operator,” whose job was to control the user interface of the game.

To determine who became the leader of each group, the researchers asked the participants both before and after the game to nominate one to five people for this distinction. The scientists found that those who talked more were also more likely to be nominated. This remained true after controlling for a number of variables, such as previous knowledge of the game, various personality traits, or intelligence.

In an interview with PsyPost, MacLaren shared that “the evidence does seem consistent that people who speak more are more likely to be viewed as leaders.”

Another find was that gender bias seemed to have a strong effect on who was considered a leader. “In our data, men receive on average an extra vote just for being a man,” explained MacLaren. “The effect is more extreme for the individual with the most votes.”

This article was reprinted with permission of Big Think, where it was originally published.

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