Donald Trump or Barack Obama may not sweep the judges off their feet in the looks department, but they do command attention as soon as they enter the room.

But what exactly makes people like Trump and Obama famous? A study conducted Joey Cheng, a PhD candidate from the University of British Colombia, along with his fellow psychologists Jessica Tracy, Alan Kingstone, Joseph Henrich, as well as Tom Foulsham from the University of Essex sought to find out what exactly is the x-factor that makes people pppular. The said research, posted at and published in the forthcoming Journal of Personality and Social Psychology says that two types of behaviors make for appealing leaders and powerful personalities: prestige and dominance.

Prestige refers to how skillful a person is and how competent he is at his task of field of expertise. Dominance indicates how successfully a person can persuade people to agree with him based on argument, intimidation, or even bullying. Two hundred participants were given problem-solving tasks in small groups. The researchers then rated each member of each group according to how much prestige, dominance, and influence they had on each other. Clearly, those who scored high in the categories were looked upon by other group members as leaders.

In the second part of the study, an additional 60 participants were tasked to watched footage of the first task. They were fitted with eye-tracking devices and researchers recorded the results. The participants’ eyes naturally focused on those who were marked as more dominant, prestigious and influencing members of the first-part group. Second-part participants paid more attention to these people.

"By measuring levels of influence and visual attention, we find that people defer to and readily spot the prestigious and dominant leaders," Cheng concludes.

Though dressing up well has a lot to do with making yourself feel good and giving others a nice first impression, it’s not enough to become influential. You don’t need to be aggressive or to become a bully; instead work hard, and let your skills speak for you. When you know what you’re doing and you’re confident about your abilities, you’ll not only gain people’s attention but also their respect.

(Screencap from The Devil Wears Prada courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

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