Tuesday, January 12, 2016 - 15:00

Quick thinkers are perceived as more charismatic by their friends, according to new research from The University of Queensland.

Professor Bill von Hippel from UQ’s School of Psychology set out to investigate why some people exude more charisma than others and whether mental speed might play a role in these differences.

The results published in Psychological Science revealed that people who were faster on the mental speed tasks were perceived as more charismatic and this association remained after other factors, such as general intelligence and personality, were taken into account.

“When we looked at charismatic leaders, musicians, and other public figures, one thing that stood out was that they are quick on their feet,” Professor von Hippel said.

“Therefore, we expected mental speed to predict charisma, as speed seemed like a critical underlying component to people’s capacity to be interesting and even a little unpredictable in social interaction.

“But we were surprised to find that mental speed was more important than IQ in predicting charisma."

The researchers recruited groups of friends, with a combined total of 417 participants across two studies, to test the role of mental speed, intelligence, and personality.

To gauge charisma, the researchers asked the participants’ friends to rate how charismatic, funny and quick-witted they were.

To measure mental speed, participants then answered 30 common-knowledge questions (e.g. “Name a precious gem”) as quickly as possible.

In the second study, participants also completed timed tasks that required them to locate a dot or identify a pattern as quickly as possible.

“We found that how smart people were was less important than how quick they were,” Professor von Hippel said.

“So knowing the right answer to a tough question appeared to be less important than being able to consider a large number of social responses in a brief window of time.

“Contrary to our predictions, mental speed did not predict other social skills, such as being able to handle conflict or interpret others’ feelings.”

The research concluded that social intelligence depends on more than knowing specific social rules or having certain social abilities, like the ability to read people’s facial expressions.

Co-authors on the study include Richard Ronay of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands and Ernest Baker, Kathleen Kjelsaas, and Sean C. Murphy also from The University of Queensland.

Media: Professor Bill von Hippel billvh@psy.uq.ed.u.au ; Kirsten O’Leary k.oleary@uq.edu.au, +61 07 3365 7436 or +61 0412 307 594