There’s no ‘I’ in team – but occasionally there is a ‘me’

Leaders and bosses are often seen as independent and self-assured in their decision making, but new research suggests they are more likely to rely on the experiences and ideas of others when making choices.

Jennifer Cook, Hanneke den Ouden, Cecilia Heyes and Roshan Cools examined the ‘social dominance paradox’ and concluded that dominant individuals are more likely to use social learning, (the experiences of others around them), in decision making than subordinate people, who tend to draw primarily on their own experiences.

To get a better grap of these findings, watch the entertaining and informing video below in which social and individual learning is revealed by letting people build rockets and fMRI scanning.

Dr Jennifer Cook, says, “The results of our experiments are interesting in that they defy normal social stereotypes. It is presumed that dominant individuals, often bosses and leaders in the workplace, make decisions quite autonomously, however, we found that they use the experiences of others. This sort of behaviour might be what makes them a good boss – they learn from others and amalgamate that knowledge with their own learning to reach the best decision.”

However, the research did discover that there is a certain type of dominant person who did conform to the stereotype. The paper looks at two types of dominance, the ‘socially dominant’ individual, described above and the ‘aggressively dominant’ person who is Machiavellian and does not use social information to make decisions. This type of individual is as likely to ‘get their own way’ as a socially dominant person, but often uses tactics such as threat, deceit and flattery which may alienate subordinates.

“This identification that not all dominant people ignore others’ views is an important step in understanding human interactions and has implications not just for the workplace, but also the classroom and perhaps even the home.” Cook says. “This suggests that whilst dominance is an attractive attribute in a leader or boss, the TYPE of dominance will have a dramatic effect not just on decision making, but on social interactions within the workplace.”

Click here to read the original research paper.


33 Participants filled in a questionnaire about their style of dominance. High scores on questions like ‘I generally put people into contact with each other’ indicated social dominance and high scores on questions such as ‘I like it when other persons serve me’ indicated aggressive dominance. Participants also played a computer task in which they could win points using information from their own personal experience, or information from other people. Whereas socially dominant individuals were greatly influenced by information that came from other people, aggressively dominant individuals were not.

Press release written by Helen Merrills from City University London