It’s the stuff of countless romance films and perfume commercials: An insanely alluring woman walks into a room (almost comically slowly) and all eyes turn to her. The gentlemen present are so compelled by her charisma that they immediately abandon their dates and rush to her side. Women want to be her and men want to be with her.
Now let’s get real. While we may idolize aloof Angelinas on the silver screen, in our everyday lives, it’s the friendly, girl-next-door Jennifers who we’re truly drawn to.
So what exactly are those seemingly intangible qualities that make a woman seem to light up a room? Obviously, we can’t deny that beauty is a major factor. But there are plenty of charismatic people that we’re inexplicably drawn to even though they’re not a 10 (or even a 6) in the looks department. Bill Clinton certainly springs to mind as does, say, Lady Gaga.
With that in mind, we wanted to find out what exactly charisma is and why we’re so captivated by the most charming person in the room. More importantly, is charisma something you’re simply born with or can you learn to exude charm?
The short answer: definitely yes and a little bit of no. That has to do with the definition of charisma itself, which is essentially defined as “a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure (as a political leader); a special magnetic charm or appeal <the charisma of a popular actor>,” according to Merriam Webster. A 1988 study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin cites an even more specific characterization of charisma: “Combining personality and social skill approaches, personal charisma has been defined as a dramatic flair involving the desire and ability to communicate emotions and thereby inspire others.”
The same study attempted to understand the effects of nonverbal expressiveness (like facial expressions or gestures) on favorable first impressions. They found that it had a significant impact—above and beyond physical attractiveness—that may help to explain the unconscious influence and sway the charismatic seem to hold over us. In the study, male and female undergraduates were secretly videotaped as they met for the first time and made small talk.
Bottom line: Emotional expressiveness—the ability to communicate both verbally and physically—connoted success when it came to initial social interactions. In other words, charmers are good at picking up social cues and can quickly read and appropriately interact with others depending on the mood and situation. They’re also stellar at creating intimacy and tend to be extroverts, a trait that is associated with openness and higher self-esteem.
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