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Caveman Politics: Evolutionary Leadership Preferences and Physical Stature


  • The corresponding author will share all data and coding information with those wishing to replicate the study. The authors thank Nelson Dometrius, Pete Hatemi, Matt Mulvaney, and Elizabeth Trejos-Castillo for their invaluable comments and Thomas Brambor for his technical assistance. Special thanks go to our colleagues and their students who shared their valuable class time to complete these studies. A previous version of this research was presented at the 2008 Midwest Political Science Association Annual Conference.

Direct correspondence to Gregg R. Murray, Department of Political Science, Texas Tech University, Box 41015, Lubbock, TX 79409 〈〉.



Following evolutionary psychology, we argue that physical stature matters in preferences regarding political leadership. Particularly, a preference for physically formidable leaders evolved to promote survivability in the violent human ancestral history.


We present two studies of original data to assess individual attitudes regarding the association between physical stature and political leadership. Analytical methods include ordered probit regression.


The findings are consistent with the evolutionary theory presented here. Study 1 indicates that individuals tend to prefer leaders with greater physical stature, while Study 2 indicates that males with greater physical stature are more likely to think of themselves as qualified to be a leader and, through this increased sense of efficacy, they are more likely to demonstrate interest in pursuing a leadership position.


Consistent with emerging evidence from other research perspectives, political behavior, in this case preferences regarding political leadership, is shaped by both environmental and evolutionary forces.