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The one personality trait that science says we need in order to be considered charismatic

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What is it that makes some people so instantly likeable that compels people to emulate, follow, or even envy them?

When you really think about it, it’s not their looks, dress sense, career goals or intelligence, it’s their charisma.

It’s the charismatic people that we all wish we could contend with; the people who light up a room just by walking in, can turn your Monday frown upside down or make every moment that much more pleasant.

But how does one pick up a pack of charisma? What is it that imbues someone with this intangible charm?

According to a new study published in Psychological Science, it’s an ability to think on your toes, that sets the charismatic people apart.

Researchers at the University of Queensland set out to determine the specific personality traits that result in someone being considered charismatic.

michelle obama

Michelle Obama is known for her charisma

Researchers conducted two studies involving 415 participants.

In the first, participants’ friends assessed them according to how ‘charismatic’, ‘funny’ and ‘quick-witted’ they were, before researchers measured the their mental speed, by asking them to answer 30 general knowledge questions (eg name a precious gem) as quickly as they could.

In a second study, participants were asked to locate a dot or identify a pattern as quickly as possible.  

“We decided to take a slightly different approach to the problem by trying to get a handle on what enables charisma,” says lead researcher, Dr. William von Hippel.

Their results showed that those who completed the mental task at the fastest speed were also the ones whose friends had noted them as being charismatic.

“When we looked at charismatic leaders, musicians, and other public figures, one thing that stood out is that they are quick on their feet,” says von Hippel.

Scientists also measured general intelligence and personality, and von Hippel revealed that the results were not what they were expecting, saying:

“Although we expected mental speed to predict charisma, we thought that it would be less important than IQ.”

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Marilyn Monroe is remembered for her endless charisma

“Instead, we found that how smart people were was less important than how quick they were. So knowing the right answer to a tough question appears to be less important than being able to consider a large number of social responses in a brief window of time,” he says.

Researchers suggest that the results could imply that those with speedy mental reactions might be more adept at masking inappropriate reactions to social situations, or cracking good jokes.

The results reveal that, despite common opinion, knowing how to react in social situations or being able to read someone’s facial expressions, might be less important than the speed at which people are able to react.

“Our findings show that social intelligence is more than just knowing the right thing to do,” says von Hippel.

“Social intelligence also requires an ability to execute, and the quickness of our mind is an important component of that ability.”

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