Is a disease leader attractive? Six tests of whether the COVID-19 pandemic affected follower preferences for attractiveness, health and other traits in political and non-political leaders

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftTidsskriftartikelForskningfagfællebedømt

Attractive political candidates receive more votes on Election Day compared to their less attractive competitors. One well-cited theoretical account for this attractiveness effect (White et al., 2013) holds that it reflects an adaptive psychological response to disease threats. Voters are predicted to upregulate preferences for attractiveness because it constitutes a cue to health. The global COVID-19 pandemic constitutes an ecologically relevant and realistic setting for further testing this prediction. Here, we report the results from six tests of the prediction based on two large and nationally representative surveys conducted in Denmark (n = 3297) at the outbreak of the pandemic and one year later. Utilizing experimental techniques, validated individual difference measures of perceived disease threat and geographic data on COVID-19 severity, we do not find that disease threats like the COVID-19 pandemic upregulate preferences for attractive and healthy political or non-political leaders. Instead, respondents display heightened preferences for health in socially proximate relations (i.e. colleagues). Moreover, individuals who react aversively to situations involving risks of pathogen transmission (scoring high in Germ Aversion) report higher importance of a wide range of leadership traits, rather than for health and attractiveness in particular. Results are discussed in relation to evolutionary accounts of leadership and followership.

TidsskriftLeadership Quarterly
Udgave nummer6
StatusUdgivet - 2022

Bibliografisk note

Funding Information:
The authors gratefully acknowledge support from the Independent Research Fund Denmark ( 0213-00052B ) and the Faculty of the Social Sciences at the University of Copenhagen. Centre for the Experimental-Philosophical Study of Discrimination is funded by the Danish National Research Foundation (144).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Inc.

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