Cue masking and cultural signals: Testing context-specific preferences for bald(ing) leaders

Nancy M. Blaker*, Brian R. Spisak, Joshua M. Tybur, Michal Kandrik, Richard D. Arvey

*Corresponding author for this work

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Androgenic Alopecia affects the majority of aging men and consequently a substantial number of leaders. Yet, there is little research on how male pattern baldness (MPB) influences leader perceptions, and no research on context-specific leader preferences for bald men. Across three studies, we add to this sparse literature by investigating a) how baldness as a biological cue for age (i.e. MPB) affects various trait perceptions, as opposed to baldness as a cultural signal for dominance (i.e. a shaved head), and b) how this information influences contingent leader preferences across coordination problems. We hypothesized a preference for a dominant leader appearance (shaved head) during war vs. peace, and a preference for an older leader appearance (MPB) during exploitation vs. exploration. In Study 1, we find that men with MPB are indeed perceived as older and that head shaving attenuates this age cue while increasing perceived dominance. Studies 2 and 3 do not show increased leader preferences for men with MPB or men with shaved heads, in any context. Instead, both studies show a particular dislike for men with a shaved head when the coordination problem requires intergroup peacekeeping.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103936
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Early online date6 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - May 2020


  • Baldness
  • Cue versus signal
  • Leader preference
  • Person perception


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