In the eye of the beholder? An eye-tracking experiment on emergent leadership in team interactions

Fabiola H. Gerpott*, Nale Lehmann-Willenbrock, Jeroen D. Silvis, Mark Van Vugt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Integrating evolutionary signaling theory with a social attention approach, we argue that individuals possess a fast, automated mechanism for detecting leadership signals in fellow humans that is reflected in higher visual attention toward emergent leaders compared to non-leaders. To test this notion, we first videotaped meetings of project teams and collected leadership ratings for the team members from three rating sources. Second, we provided 18 naïve observers with 42 brief, muted video clips of the team meetings and analyzed their eye gazing patterns. Observers gazed at emergent leaders more often, and for an average longer duration, than at non-leaders. Gender effects occurred such that male emergent leaders received a higher number of fixations than female emergent leaders. Non-verbal behavior analysis indicated that emergent leaders showed a higher amount of active gestures and less passive facial expressions than non-leaders. We discuss theoretical and methodological directions for emergent leadership research in teams.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)523-532
Number of pages10
JournalLeadership Quarterly
Issue number4
Early online date20 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


  • Emergent leadership
  • Eye gazing
  • Signaling theory
  • Social attention
  • Thin slices


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