Stereotypes versus preferences: Revisiting the role of alpha males in leadership

Adi Wiezel, Michael Barlev, Christopher R. Martos, Douglas T. Kenrick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Why are women underrepresented in positions of leadership? According to the “think manager-think male” model, leaders are stereotyped as male—and, in turn, as dominant—and this stereotype translates into preferences. However, status and leadership can be attained not only by dominance but also by prestige—a less sex-typed pathway. Five studies explored the relationship between leader stereotypes and preferences. University students spontaneously imagined both dominant and prestigious leaders as men (Study 1A, N = 148)—and this generalized across occupational domains (Study 1B, N = 220). However, they preferred women and prestigious leaders over men and dominant leaders. Study 2 (N = 2692) found this preference for female over male leaders using a large nationally representative U.S. sample from the Pew American Trends Panel. Study 3 (N = 461) experimentally replicated the preference for prestigious female over dominant male leader candidates among university students. In Study 4, (N = 952) online MTurk participants judged politicians from face photographs and again showed a preference for women, which may have partially been due to the inference that women are more likely to use prestige- over dominance-based leadership strategies. Collectively, findings suggest that the belief that people prefer “alpha male” leaders, which might discourage women from pursuing leadership roles and others from nominating them, needs to be updated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • Dominance
  • Gender
  • Leadership
  • Prestige
  • Sex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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