Throwing your weight around the office might pay off in the short term if you get your way, but the long-term consequences of aggressive, power-hungry behaviour are pretty bleak – there's a high chance you won't live as long.
Using methods of intimidation to assert dominance takes its toll on our health, according to psychologists at the University of Utah, since it is associated with higher personal stress and can increase vulnerability to cardiovascular disease.
This doesn't mean that you have to be passive and subservient to achieve a longer lifespan, though – aggression is just one of many ways high status can be achieved. If a powerful reputation is built up through friendliness and prestige, it can have the opposite effect.
Led by professor Timothy Smith, the researchers carried out a series of studies into the effects of aggressive behaviour on different aspects of health.
They found aggressively dominant types among a sample of undergraduate students reported higher levels of stress, while those who were socially dominant through being nice were in general less stressed than the norm.
When blood pressure was monitored following scripted conversations with actors who were told to behave in a dominant, stress-inducing way, another correlation became apparent in the students – those with a tendency for aggression were much more likely to react badly, with blood pressure rising higher than average. Regularly having high blood pressure is dangerous because it can cause of cardiovascular disease.
The trend isn't limited to the workplace, either. The study included older, married couples, and found that a warm-dominant style in either sex was associated with less conflict and more support, whereas an aggressive-dominant style was linked to conflict. On top of that, the latter type was more likely to suffer from severe atherosclerosis (a thickening of the artery walls).
"It's not a style that wears well with other people," said Smith. But he added that it is possible to teach yourself to be less aggressive.
"Something usually has to fall apart first before they are willing to entertain that option, but there is some evidence that it is possible to teach old dogs new tricks, and if you do, it can reduce coronary risk."