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Research Says Muscular Men Appear to Have More Social Status


Here’s one more thing that might motivate you to get to the gym. Some recent research carried out at the University of California Berkeley took a look at how men’s physical stature affects other people’s perception about their social status and leadership abilities.

To carry out the study, the researchers got together a bunch of men who were willing to be judged. They then started out by measuring their upper body strength using a handheld hydraulic Dynamometer that measures chest and arm strength. Then they put them in white tank tops that showed off their body and took photos of them that cut off at the waist so you couldn’t tell how tall they were. (It was important to control for height in the study since tall men have been shown to be perceived as more powerful than their counterparts in certain studies.)

Next the researchers got together a group of both men and women to judge the photos of the men, telling them that they had all just gotten hired. Next they asked them a series of questions about their perceptions of them based on just the photos alone, such as “how much they admired [the subject], held him in esteem, and believed he would rise in status,” as well as “Do you think this person would be a good leader?” and “How effective is this person dealing with others in a group?”

Overall the men who were physically stronger scored higher on the questions that had to do with high status and good leadership qualities, even when other factors besides their upper body strength were being controlled. The researchers controlled for the looks of the men by also asking the judges about their attractiveness, which then could help them figure out if looks were playing into the equation or not, and the results held even when the looks were controlled for. (Attractive people are often assumed to be more trustworthy or capable than their less attractive counterparts.)

One of the study researchers, Cameron Anderson, Ph.D., a management professor and sociology expert at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, said:

“Our findings are consistent with a lot of real examples of strong men in positions of power.”

However, there was one thing that made the strong men not appear to be good leaders to the judges, and that was if they looked like they could be threatening.

According to the other main study researcher Aaron Lukaszewski, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Oklahoma State:

“Strong men who were perceived as being likely to behave aggressively toward other group members were actually granted less status than their apparently gentler counterparts.”

“Perceived strength does give people an advantage but it’s not make or break,” Anderson said. “If you’re behaving in ways that demonstrate you are a leader or are not a leader, strength doesn’t matter.”

So basically, you might be able to up your perceived social status by adding on some muscle, but only if you look like a nice enough guy who means business.