Researchers from the University of British Columbia found that people who were dominant had a greater influence on others, and could be easily and quickly picked out of a crowd.
In a two part study, 200 participants completed a problem-solving task in small groups while being videotaped, with volunteers rating each other's dominance, prestige and influence during the task, as well as their own.
The researchers defined prestige as the appearance of skill and competency, and dominance as having the ability to impose ideas on others through bullying and intimidation.
Results showed those who were more dominant or prestigious had a greater influence on the task and were seen as more influential by the participants, the 'Daily Mail' reported.
In the second part, 60 extra participants watched a total of 120 seconds of short videos of the initial group interactions while wearing an eye-tracking device.
The team found these participants paid significantly greater attention to individuals who appeared more dominant or prestigious, indicating their higher levels of influence.
The study also revealed while participants preferred leaders with prestige, they were more likely to choose dominant leaders, and were more forgiving of their behaviour.
Researchers said the findings could explain the number of aggressive leaders in business and politics - such as tycoon Donald Trump - with dominant behaviour evolving from resource and power battles from our evolutionary past.
The value of prestige, on the other hand, has only increased with the rise of meritocracy in society.
"Our findings suggest there are really two ways to top the social ladder and gain leadership - impressing people with your skills or powering your way through old-fashioned dominance," lead author Joey Cheng said.
"By measuring levels of influence and visual attention, we find that people defer to and readily spot the prestigious and dominant leaders," Chang said.
The study was reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.