Impulsive gaffes, inappropriate comments and short fuses are common among the famous and powerful, and new research suggests it could have a biological basis.

A study from The University of Queensland says lapses in self-control can establish a perception of power.

“Like other animals, humans are particularly good at determining where a new group member fits on the social ladder,” lead author Dr Jason McIntyre said.

“Self-control, or lack thereof, can be one cue that we use to gauge someone’s status.

“Ironically, the tendency for politicians and other leaders to behave impulsively may signal to party members and the public that they possess power.”

The report noted that low levels of self-control were traditionally associated with poor life outcomes.

However, low self-control also advertises power to new acquaintances.

“Because politicians, sports stars and others in powerful positions feel licensed to act impulsively and inappropriately as they’re unlikely to suffer the consequences of this behaviour, we have learned to infer social status based on these cues,” Dr McIntyre said.

“The behaviour of people with impaired self-control and people in high positions of power are often indistinguishable.

“For example, narcissism is a quality displayed by people who possess and seek power, and it is particularly exaggerated among people with low self-control.”

The full report is accessible here.