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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Genetic essentialism, cognitive functioning, and leadership behaviour Waldhauser, Katrina


The narrative in popular culture often relays the idea that genes are deterministic, meaning they lead to pre-determined outcomes such as obesity or mental illness (Dar-Nimrod & Heine, 2011). Personalized genetic reports, such as 23andMe and Ancestry, provide an opportunity for miscomprehension concerning the nature and role played by genetics in predicting/influencing salient behavioral outcomes. It has been suggested that these misunderstandings, when paired with human biases, subsequently influence maladaptive cognitive functioning and behaviour (Dar-Nimrod & Heine, 2011). Although genetic essentialism biases have been found to influence behaviours such as women’s math ability (Dar-Nimrod & Heine, 2006), no research has previously examined the implications of believing leadership ability to be genetically determined. The current study was designed to examine the effects of genetic essentialism on perceptions of one’s own leadership behaviours, as well as potential mediators of those effects. The results of this experimental study revealed that when participants were primed to believe that they had the genetic make-up of a leader, they subsequently perceived themselves to display higher levels of one form of leadership behaviour (related to ‘putting others first’). The results also revealed null effects in relation to a global measure of transformational leadership as well as overt displays of co-operative leadership behaviour (as assessed via a public goods game). With regard to the effects of genetic essentialism on ‘putting others first’, the results of a multiple-mediator analysis point to the salience of leadership self-efficacy as an explanatory mechanism. The findings are discussed with regard to the nature of genetic essentialism, study limitations, and implications for future research.

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