Automatic and controlled processes in leadership recognition: Investigating the impact of information load, need for leadership, and time delay
Willis, Cynthia Emrich
Schneider, David J.
Doctor of Philosophy
It has been theorized that leadership recognition is the product of an automatic categorization process in which individuals compare a set of observed behaviors to a leadership prototype and then, given a sufficient match, automatically recognize the target individual as a leader (Lord, Foti, & DeVader, 1984). The first goal of this research was to test this theory. A second goal was to investigate three potential moderators of the cognitive processes mediating leadership recognition: information load, need for leadership, and time delay. Three experiments were conducted in which subjects assumed the role of a work team coordinator for a small computer company. Their task was to identify an individual to fill an opening in a work team. During a study phase, subjects read a series of behavioral descriptions that were taken from recommendations written about former employees and one job candidate. A test phase followed in which the primary task was Jacoby's (1991) process-dissociation procedure (PDP), a recognition memory that generates estimates of automatic and controlled processes. Results from the experiments revealed that leadership recognition was mediated by a combination of automatic and controlled processes, with the balance clearly favoring automatic processes. That is, individuals operated in a primarily unintentional, unavoidable, and effortless manner when processing and integrating behavioral information about a potential leader. This balance of automatic and controlled cognitive processes was moderated by subjects' perceptions of the extent to which the work team needed a leader (Experiment 2 - Need for Leadership). Specifically, high-need-for-leadership subjects employed a more focused strategy of information processing than did their low-need counterparts. They appeared to expect and to give less scrutiny to behaviors that were consistent with leadership (increase in automatic processes), and to work more diligently to make sense of and integrate behaviors that were irrelevant to leadership (increase in controlled processes). The general primacy of automatic processes found in these experiments suggests that individuals are adept at forming impressions of potential leaders. This ability to identify leaders in a primarily effortless fashion is largely adaptive in light of the attentional scarcity that characterizes much of everyday life.
Industrial psychology; Social psychology; Experimental psychology