Charismatic People Think Fast & It Says A Lot About How We Deal With Social Situations

Even though these days it can seem like everybody’s an introvert—what with the constant online one-upmanship of how much of a homebody we can each be on a Friday night—extroverts are still out there. And although it may seem like the introverts are getting all the scientific love, there is plenty of research being done on extroverted personality types. Take, for instance, a recent study that concluded charismatic people think fast. Oh, by the way, the reason you see so many internet articles about introversion? That could be simply because introverts are more reflective, and therefore more likely to write about being introverted. Just so we’ve established that no one personality type is better than another; we’re all just different.

Anyway, on to the study. It was conducted by William von Hippel and his colleagues at the University of Queensland in Australia. Von Hippel and his colleagues asked participants, who were recruited as groups of friends, simple general-knowledge questions (like “what’s the name of a precious gem?”) and timed their responses. They also administered intelligence and personality tests to the participants. Here’s where it gets interesting: participants were also asked to rate their friends’ charisma and social skills.

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Researchers found that those who answered the questions the quickest were also the ones who were rated by their friends as most charismatic—regardless of their IQ or personality.

The results weren’t exactly surprising to von Hippel and his colleagues. He told the Harvard Business Review , “I think we all sense that charismatic people tend to be quick on their feet. They say things that you find compelling but that you don’t expect. They come back with an entertaining answer or a surprising association, and you never quite know what will happen next.” And on a logical level, it does make sense—people who are outgoing and enjoy social situations are usually quick to come up with something funny or interesting to add. You kind of have to be.

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There were some surprising outcomes to the study. For one, although it might be commonly believed that intelligent people are naturally more charismatic, the study found that speed was a much more reliable predictor of charisma than IQ was. As von Hippel explains, “mental speed is not the same thing as IQ; some smart people are pretty slow and some fast people aren’t too sharp.”

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Additionally, you might think that someone who thinks quickly would excel in other social situations too, like handling conflict, making other people feel better, and interpreting other people’s feelings. This was not the case. So just because fast thinking might predict charisma, it doesn’t predict general social skills. In simpler terms, someone can be charismatic, but that doesn’t mean they are exactly the most graceful in all social situations. I’m sure we all know someone like that.

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And when we say “fast,” how fast do we mean exactly? In the study, the fast thinkers responded in 400 milliseconds; the “slow” ones took 900 milliseconds or longer. In other words, half a second. Kind of gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, "think fast," doesn't it?

Images: Brooke Cagle / Unsplash; Giphy (4)