Testing the babble hypothesis: Speaking time predicts leader emergence in small groups

Neil G. MacLaren*, Francis J. Yammarino, Shelley D. Dionne, Hiroki Sayama, Michael D. Mumford, Shane Connelly, Robert W. Martin, Tyler J. Mulhearn, E. Michelle Todd, Ankita Kulkarni, Yiding Cao, Gregory A. Ruark

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


The large, positive correlation between speaking time and leader emergence is well-established. As such, some authors have argued for a “babble hypothesis” of leadership, suggesting that only the quantity of speaking, not its quality, determines leader emergence. However, previous tests of this notion may have been problematic. Some studies have asserted a causal effect of speaking time on leader emergence based on experimental studies, but have limited participant communication, access to reliable information, or both. Other studies have used more ecologically valid designs, but have not always controlled for relevant participant traits or roles, suggesting potential endogeneity effects. Testing the babble hypothesis thus requires a study that is both ecologically valid and supports strong inference. The current study fills that gap and finds that speaking time retains its direct effect on leader emergence when accounting for intelligence, personality, gender, and the endogeneity of speaking time.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101409
JournalLeadership Quarterly
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Oct
Externally publishedYes


  • Babble hypothesis
  • Individual differences
  • Leader emergence
  • Speaking time

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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