Dominant Jerks: People Infer Dominance From the Utterance of Challenging and Offensive Statements


  • Emma De Araujo
  • Sacha Altay
  • Alexander Bor
  • Hugo Mercier


Could there be upsides to rudely challenging people’s positions? If no one calls out the speaker of a challenging or offensive statement, it might be because the audience is afraid to challenge the speaker, thereby suggesting the speaker holds a dominant position. In two experiments (N = 635), participants read vignettes in which a speaker uttered a statement that was challenging (it directly clashed with the audience’s prior views) or unchallenging (it agreed with the audience’s prior views). We also manipulated whether the audience accepted or rejected the statement after it was uttered. In Experiment 1 the statements were about mundane topics, while in Experiment 2 the statements were offensive. In both experiments, speakers uttering challenging statements that the audience nonetheless accepted were deemed more dominant and more likely to be the boss of the audience members. This shows that people use audience reactions to challenging statements to infer dominance, and suggests that people might use the utterance of challenging statements to demonstrate their dominance.