Leadership categories, prototypes, and a failure to prime.

Lord, Foti & De Vader’s paper is more… well, inspired, in part, by Srull & Wyer, especially the third experiment.

The two first are much more interested in understanding how we think about leadership, and more precisely, leadership categories in a Rosch manner. In the first experiment, they simply have participants list features that they think a good leader should have, and then they analyze these features to understand whether leadership categories are related through family resemblance, and which features seem to have cue validity (if this feature is present, it is probably a leader).

In the second experiment, they are interested in looking at the accessibility of features that are either leadership related, neutral, or anti-leadership related. The create a questionnaire, that they call the “Acron Leadership Questionnaire” or ALQ. It consists of 25 two word items, such as “Emphasizes goals” “makes jokes” and “neglects details”. I assume that the first is congruent with leadership, the second neutral, and the last incongruent. Participants are asked to respond to each using one of 5 computer buttons that mainly correspond to likert-scale type categories. (Not at all well to extremely well). The researchers are particularly interested in reaction time, as quick reaction times likely means that this particular description is highly accessible, and would give a cue as to the underlying category structure of leaders.

I’m not going to discuss the results, because they are not of the main interest here. But, I described the task in some detail, because most of the participants in this experiment also participated in experiment 3, and these participants were considered primed with the leadership concept.

In the third experiment they are investigating what it is that makes someone perceived as a leader. They propose two mechanisms: the first is how well the described individual matches a prototypical leader, and the second is whether the prototype of leader has recently been brough to mind, in the way that Srull & Wyer brought hostility to mind via their sentence unscrambling task.

To investigate this, Lord et all created three short vignettes of a manager, John Perry. The vignettes were either prototypical, neutral or antiprototypical of leadership. (They dipped into experiment 1 to construct these).

After having read one of these vignettes participants got to rate John Perry on the following:

His “contribution to store managers’ effectiveness”

“his influence in deremining the new product’s success”

“his leadership exhibited”

“His desirability as a district manager”

They also rated how often they thought John Perry would engage in each of the two-word behaviors from the ALQ

The participants that rated were most of those that had done the ALQ rating in experiment 2 (primed condition) plus an additional 34 participants who did it without the priming.

The main finding for us is that priming did not do anything to any of the dependent measures.

I thought I should, maybe, speculate why this is. As with all the earlier work, the n/cell isn’t high. There were 61 participants in the priming condition, but as this was divided into three vignettes (one shot) that leads to about 20 participants in each cell. Even fewer for the non-prime – about 11 per cell.

This, so far, seems to be the standard.

But, should we really expect a priming effect? In the earlier work, the ostensible effect (robust or not) is that the prime biases the judgment of information that is ambiguous. When we can’t make sense of things in and of itself, what has been brought to mind earlier will influence how we judge it. Hence, we have the more hostile Donald. But, of these three vignettes, only the neutral could possibly be considered ambiguous, or at least not displaying any particular cues as to whether John Perry is a good leader or not. This should be the only place where you would see an effect of a prime biasing responses.

Also, in all the earlier priming work, the prime (or variants of primes) are designed so that they should be able to bias the subsequent responses. I’m not sure that responding to the ALQ can be considered a biasing prime. It contains both prototypical and anti-prototypical leadership behaviors. If anything, the prime could possibly have narrowed standard deviations (the concept of leadership is already activated, so the participants don’t have to create one ad hoc), and possibly speed up responses – although they don’t measure it.

It is mildly interesting that the exposure doesn’t seem to have an effect, but there isn’t much more that can be said.

Lord, Robert G., Foti, Roseanne, J. & De Vader, Christy L. (1984). A Test of Leadersip Categorization theory: Internal Structure, Information Processing, and Leadership Perceptions. Organizational behavior and human performance, 34, 343-378.

About asehelene

... because if I'm in a room with a second person, I want to be reasonably sure I'm the crazier one.
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