Favorite colleagues – How we actually choose them


Nice and helpful or powerful and with good connections – which friend is the better at work? A study from Scotland shows how much we are guided by evolutionary motifs in the selection of our allies. Thus, whether male or female, we almost always prefer a feminine woman to her masculine sex partner. In the case of men, it is true – sometimes in any case – exactly the opposite. But why is it like that? So we choose our favorite colleagues … 

Favorite colleagues: Depends on it

Anyone who forges the right friendships in the company, skillfully influences colleagues, coalesces them with them, or manipulates them and ultimately ascends on the career ladder, has – probably – a high machiavellian intelligence.

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Behavioral biologists rewrite machiavellian intelligence as the ability to behave so cleverly within a social group, to interact so cleverly with the other members that one emerges as a victor from the plot play and attains power – just as the nomenclator Niccolo Macchiavelli in the Florence of the Renaissance.

Machiavellian intelligence goes far beyond the emotional intelligence, which is above all empathy and empathy. It is not just about putting oneself into other people, but also drawing the conclusions that are important for one’s own progress. Calculation and calculus play a role. What is undoubtedly also important in the context is the selection of friends and allies.

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Favorite colleague: Masculine or feminine?

Christopher Watkins from the University of Abertay in Dundee and Benedict Jones from the University of Glasgow wanted to know the criteria for choosing our allies. Her study appears in the December issue of the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

For their online experiment, the two Scots chose a total of 246 young adults. These should be divided into four different scenarios, in which there was always competition for the same sex:

  • In the first scenario, the subjects gained a physical engagement with a rival.
  • In the second they lost.
  • In the third scenario, they were promoted.
  • In the fourth they were not promoted.

Thereupon the participants were shown 20 faces, both men and women. The photos had been processed on the computer in such a way that every portrayed person had once more masculine, sometimes more feminine facial features. Always two pictures of the same person so. The confused faces, for example, had larger eyes, were less angular.

Now the participants should choose: Which of the two people would be the better allies for me?

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Allies: Combatants and Conspirators

In principle, however, the researchers estimate:

  • Men are looking for allies, with whom they can compete in the competition, with which they are able to take part in the battle.
  • Women are looking for friends who can offer them social support.

This has an evolutionary basis. Strong allies helped men not only in the struggle with other clans but also to improve their own social position.

On the other hand, according to Watkins, dominant people are less fair and helpful. A disadvantage when it comes to sharing resources.

In times of economic distress it might have been an advantage not to have a friend who was less dominant, but rather balanced and resource-sharing. “Our results show that the sexes respond differently to facial features,” says Watkins. The reactions are also dependent on the situation in which they are.

However, this was a pure simulation. It is thus conceivable that the many fundamentally different situations in real life trigger completely different effects and preferences. In addition, the test subjects assessed their test objects exclusively on the face and according to facial features.