Influential and affable

Friday, September 1st, 2017

Researchers developed a six-item self-report measure of charisma — having influence over others (including being able to guide them) and coming across as affable (being able to make others feel comfortable and at ease):

Participants taking the new test are asked to rate their agreement on a five-point scale from 1 Strongly Disagree to 5 Strongly Agree, whether “I am someone who…”:

  • Has a presence in a room
  • Has the ability to influence people
  • Knows how to lead a group
  • Makes people feel comfortable
  • Smiles at people often
  • Can get along with anyone

(The first three items tap the influence factor of charisma and the last three items tap the affability factor.)

Having devised their test, the researchers put it through its paces in a number of ways. For example, they asked volunteers to complete the new charisma measure plus lots of other established psychological measures, and were able to show that scores on the new test are related to but distinct from established psychological constructs such as the Big Five personality traits, emotional intelligence and political skill. For instance, people’s scores on the the affability factor of the new test correlated with their trait Agreeableness, which makes conceptual sense. On the other hand, charisma scores appeared to be completely separate from intelligence, suggesting that “individual differences in general charisma are not redundant with cognitive ability”.

In another study the researchers asked small groups of unacquainted students to chat to each other for five minutes and to rate themselves and other group members on the charisma test. This showed that individuals’ charisma self-ratings on the test correlated with the charisma ratings they received from others. In another similar study, students’ self-ratings on the charisma test correlated with ratings they received from friends or family.

The researchers also asked pairs of unacquainted students to chat to each other for ten minutes and then rate each other’s likability. The students also rated themselves on standard personality measures and on the new charisma measure. The higher the students scored on charisma (specifically the affability factor), the more likable they tended to be rated by their partners, even after taking into account their scores on the Big Five personality traits of Extraversion, Agreeableness etc.

In another demonstration of the tests’ validity, the researchers asked more student volunteers to read out either a weak or strong argument for wind energy and then to complete the charisma test. Next, participants on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk listened back to the recordings and rated how persuasive they found them. When it came to the weak arguments, they found participants who’d scored themselves higher on charisma (specifically the influence factor) to be more persuasive. In relation to the affability factor, women who scored higher on this were rated as more persuasive, whereas for men the affability scores were not relevant (the researchers speculated this has to do with cultural expectations for women to be warm).


  1. Kirk says:

    More academic navel-gazing, and of essential uselessness when attempting to transition any of this to real-world usefulness.

    The personality traits which create these effects are ephemeral, and only applicable in the benign environment they imagine for these studies and tests. So what if Student A is influential, when it comes to essentially meaningless things in these environments? What possible utility is that “study”, when you take and transition it to an environment of crisis, emergency? Are those same “influencers” still effective, in those environments and circumstances? Do any of the the test subjects even pay attention to them?

    There’s a world of difference between being the kid who sets the mark for what toys to buy, and being the guy who creates order out of chaos amidst disaster. There are people who create order, and effectuate effective responses to crisis, and they’re rarely the same people as the “fashion setters”. You want to see true charisma? Go look at a panic-stricken retreat, like the Germans faced innumerable times on the Eastern Front, or the US Army faced in Korea. The German Wehrmacht usually managed to pull things out of the shit, under some extraordinarily bad circumstances, and it was consistent enough that it was an expectation when planning your attack–Instead of a rout, you’d likely eventually come up against some grizzled Feldwebel or Oberleutnant who’d grabbed up enough fleeing troops and combat power to stall your attack and maybe stop it. Those sorts of men are the ones to examine, for true charisma. Getting someone to buy into the latest fashion or the currently politically correct news stories isn’t particularly hard, nor is it something that really means a damn thing. Persuading, through moral force and example, other men to turn back against the enemy during a major rout? That, my friend, is a thing of substance and significance. And, figuring out how to create those men, nurture them, and make them a part of your organization? That is the acme of true excellence, and one that the US Army is particularly bad at. Examine the performance of many US Army elements during the hard days of the early and mid-war Korean War, and you’ll find all too many cases where such men were in very limited supply. The whys and wherefores of that fact are the things that should be studied, and worried about more than whether or not you can twist the ephemera to get others to buy into wearing your popped collars around campus.

  2. Graham says:

    Goddamn that was refreshing, Kirk.

    I actually found the post and linked article quite interesting and valuable, but I quite agree. There’s situationally appropriate charisma, and it’s a matter of both type and degree, to be sure.

    I am loath to generalize, but I suspect affability plays a role in building unit rapport beforehand, and even then far more limited than civilian life, especially the trivial scenarios laid out in the article. And drops away completely in dangerous conditions, in favour of influence, dominance, and perceived competence. Maybe a little fear of the influencer, as well. I can’t say- I’ve never been anywhere near anything comparable to combat.

  3. Kirk says:


    See, the thing is this: The academic world looks at things from an essentially trivial vantage point, and then try to extrapolate out from that position to deeper things. Perhaps that’s an artifact of the fact that setting up truly revelatory tests and studies in this area would be well-nigh impossible, from both a practical and an ethical standpoint, but nonetheless, they don’t get at the essential truths of these things, and are completely unwilling to recognize that they are missing entire continents of meaning, depth, and experience.

    There’s charisma, and then there is charisma. The first is a trivial thing, a thing of fashion leadership and glamour, while the second is a profound ability to influence others to do that which is likely to kill some of them. There is a huge difference between the man whose tastes and choices in style and fashion are widely copied by others, and the man who those people look to in moments of crisis for leadership and example. A lot of the time, you don’t even know who that man will be, but he somehow manages to come to the fore when the occasion requires it, leaving the fashion plate behind and ignored.

    I’ve watched this sort of thing play out at the micro- and the macro-level innumerable times, both as a participant in the crowd, and as one of the “official leaders” observing the way things shake out at the primal level below official hierarchy. I’m convinced that there is an entire realm of philosophy and study to be found here, one which we ignore to our peril when in positions of leadership. There’s the official, sanctified hierarchy, and then there’s the primal “peer leader” level, where things go on that pass all logical analysis.

    I had a squad, once, where I got pulled out of the squad leader position to go do some inane tasking. With no other “officially sanctioned” NCO to take my place, I had to turn running things over to the unofficial “Spec Four Mafia”, and it was a thing of interest watching that whole deal shake out. The guy who was the “fair-haired” pretty-boy favorite of all those above me, who was held out to be an example to all and sundry, actually turned out to be a complete waste of oxygen as a junior leader. The guy who did come to the fore, and who managed to take over running things via sheer force of competency and taking care of others? Wasn’t someone that anyone above me in the leadership chain felt any confidence in. Before the exercise where these guys were sent to the crucible, the person everyone looked to for cues as to behavior and “style” was our fair-haired prodigal. After three weeks in the field, with him showing his true colors as a man more concerned with his own comforts, he went from being the central focus of things to being practically ignored, while his less-attractive replacement became the “quietly competent” peer leader. It was amazing to watch the tone of the group-mind that was the squad change, simply due to who all the junior enlisted were emulating and copying.

    This is the sort of thing that you can’t really get at with academic study and the testing of college students. If you go back and look at the way the old German Army of pre-WWI selected and trained their NCO corps, you can see a lot of canny practical psychology that went on, based on decades of observation and the distillation of “best practices”. Same-same in the US Army, but the modern approach we’ve taken, thinking that if it can’t be “academized”, to coin a term, it really isn’t “real”, has led to an awful lot of the old-school traditions and techniques being forgotten and even actively eliminated in the name of modernizing and liberalizing things. Which has turned out to be a flat-out fucking disaster across most of society, to be quite honest.

    Time was, back in my grandmother’s day (circa 1920), young teachers were closely watched and supervised by their elders in the profession. After initial assessment, it didn’t take a hell of a lot to get black-balled by other teachers, and your career ended. Contrast that with today’s more “liberal” policies, and lack of professional peer policing of the ranks, and the actual antecedents of the epidemic of student sexual involvement become quite clear. Back in the day, teachers weren’t any more or less sexually driven than they are today–What’s changed is that the traditional control mechanisms were abandoned wholesale and left behind, much as the Army abandoned the traditional methodologies for building and identifying leaders at the juniormost levels.

    There’s an awful lot to be learned from the way our elders organized and did things, which we’ve sadly thrown out on the midden-heap of history. Personally, I think there’s more of value to be learned from examining “the way things used to be” than in trying to re-invent the wheel via “modern” academic study.

  4. Graham says:


    I think I’m pretty well on side with all that, albeit from a much more civilian perspective.

    The sort of thing the article reflects is still at the sub-official, ‘peer’ level to a degree, but it is VERY much ‘market research’ or ‘consumer-influencer’ stuff.

    Not ‘leadership’ in the original sense of providing actual leadership in some kind of situation that actually demands there be some leadership. Just in the sense of some airhead who has the stylistic nous to persuade others to buy someone’s crap, whether material goods, lifestyle behaviours, or social morals.

    I’m certainly not old enough to remember the days before tv commercials, but I well remember times when they were a lot less sophisticated in content, targeting, and subtle social messaging. Time was, although they could convey information about what products were out there and probably were received as quality signals by many for some favoured product, they were a bit more of a joke. Now we are all tuned to be ironic and self-aware about everything, including advertising, and yet somehow pervasive use of technology and this sort of research to manipulate us is accelerating. Go figure. Maybe we aren’t so bright and aware after all.

    In effect what is being discussed here is ‘influence’, not leadership, and in the context of propaganda, not command.

    Hey, let me not knock this. Personally I’ve seen plenty of context-setting, reframing, and selective wording in my time that has shaped discourse so thoroughly it deserves the Joseph Goebbels Memorial Award for Advanced Marketing.

    But it isn’t leadership.

  5. Graham says:

    Actually, when some actual leader emerges that captures the dominant values of this age and can lead them, and has these tools at his/her disposal, that creature would be the terror of the earth.

    Just as long as it’s not Zuckerberg or his sister Donna. She already gets the Goebbels Award.

  6. Kirk says:

    Graham, I don’t think you necessarily need to worry much about that–These artificially created “influencers” lack an essential authenticity that is readily apparent, especially to those who have been exposed to a lot of the BS.

    You mention the advertising/marketing world having changed us, but recognize that the modern audience is not the one that early mass marketers so easily exploited. Sure, you can gin up enthusiasm for the sort of thing that allows you to market brine shrimp as “Sea Monkeys”, but consider what effect that has on the disappointed victim of your chicanery. Will those kids ever look at advertising and marketing the same way, having been lied to so conspicuously? You look at the old advertising, and you realize that what worked then, will absolutely not work now, with the inoculated audience it has to deal with. The marketers have to wait for a fresh set of eyes and ears, before the lies can work again–And, then they just do the same thing all over again, like Sisyphus rolling a stone uphill. Eventually, you’re going to reach a point where advertising and marketing just don’t flippin’ work anymore. With my own perceptions of what I see out there, the fact is that most of the advertising I see is simply counterproductive, because I’ve come to assume that anything which requires marketing in the first place is likely not worth the trouble or expense. Get enough people convinced to think like I do through sad experience and misadventure, and the whole sham collapses.

    Politicians are in grave danger of doing this, destroying their credibility. It is, I think, a large part of why Trump did so well, and the lesson which should be imparted to the bipartisan permanent political establishment is that the voting public is catching on to their bullshit. I suspect that this next election cycle is going to see a bunch of establishment Republicans pushed out of office, and even less success for the Democrat side of the permanent electoral class. Where we are in ten, twenty years? No idea, but I think that the incessant bullshit the media and political class have been spewing is going to come back to haunt them, as they discover that they’ve overdrawn their credibility accounts at the bank of public opinion.

    I don’t think Zuckerberg stands a chance in hell of leveraging that, either, given the biased position his company has taken, along with the other big tech giants. They incorrectly concluded that they were on the “right side” of history, which is a ludicrous concept in the first damn place, and opted to work towards increasing social controls and penetration into daily life. That’s not gonna work, in the medium term, because people are getting so fed up with this kind of crap that they’re just going to rebel. The whole thing is going to blow up, and the ones who are most likely to experience that are the Chinese, with their nutso “social currency” idea. That sucker is going to be suborned and repurposed so quickly that your eyes will spin, and the classic Chinese tendency to suborn every conquering power that’s ever stepped foot into the Middle Kingdom is going to do the same damn thing it always has–The Communists morphed into the Ming so gradually that nobody noticed, and the same thing will happen here. You push in on the balloon of society in one place, and it will bulge out somewhere else, in multiple unexpected ways. China will remain China, no matter what the box says on the outside. Expect them to go through the same cyclic crap that they always have, with the warlords waiting in the wings for the central government to become corrupt and inefficient, and begin the whole thing over again. It would be nice if the Chinese could break the cycle, but I don’t think that they can–The inherent nature of things there would require them to shed a truly prodigious swath of their population, which isn’t likely to happen. Same-same with India, but then again, maybe they’ll do each other a favor in that regard.

  7. Graham says:


    May you be right.

    Current generations can and do see through and laugh at the early marketing. I’m not always so sure they see through the modern marketing, or if they aren’t actually MORE gullible than we were in the past.

    Many seem to have bought the current version of the age of aquarius political model lock, stock and barrel.

    I suppose we shall see. I am not optimistic.

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