Stand up Straight, Size Counts Around Here

As I’m sure you’re all aware, around these digs at Neurotopia, size counts. Especially on Fridays. But size counts today in a DIFFERENT way. Honest. No penises until tomorrow. I swear.
I’ve been meaning to blog about this for a while. For at least a week, in fact. But things like “life” always try to get in the way of more important things like “blogging”. Silly life. Like I care about it.

But anyway, let’s talk about status. Status and height. Because it is, after all, the size that counts.
ResearchBlogging.org Marsh, et al. “Larger than life; humans’ nonverbal status cues alter perceived size” PLoS ONE, 2009.
bondheight.jpg


I get together with a group of my lady friends sometimes. When we get together, those who are not attached to a ball and chain on a permanent basis often talk about what they desire in a mate. I’ve heard a lot of preferences: good looking (or not, a non-good-looking guy will never leave a hot girl voluntarily), smart, witty, funny, whatever. But the one physical preference I hear most often: he needs to be tall. In the words of one of my awesome friends “I like my men climbable”.
Why is this? With humans, the answer appears to be as old as the birds and the bees. It’s a question of status. Physical size is a sign of maturity, it’s a sign of strength. This is true for humans as with any other animal. Tall guys make more money, and how tall you are affects how much status people think you have. It’s good to be tall. Height is correlated with health, strength, and an ability to dunk. 10 out of 12 of the presidential elections from 1952 to 1996 were won by the taller candidate. McCain should have taken one look at the long, lanky Obama and given it up as a lost cause.
But this isn’t always true, not all tall people are high status, and not all short people are low status. There are other things that influence status, particularly things calls nonverbal status cues. These cues include things like the way people stand: shoulders back as opposed to bowed forward, an open posture vs a closed one. Whether or not your eyebrows are raised or lowered; lowered brows are a sign of aggression and dominance, and people theorize this is because it makes the face look more adult and masculine, while raised eyebrows make your eyes look bigger and more childlike, and thus submissive. It can even include the gestures people make: outward directed gestures such as pointing are associated with high status.
So psychologists have known for a while what high status and low status cues were. But they didn’t know WHY the cues were high status or low status. Some hypothesized that high status cues made people seem more masculine and thus more dominant, but this doesn’t necessarily hold true, as the same status cues signal high status across men and women and do not affect perceptions of masculinity. The other hypothesis is that, like gorillas standing up and beating their chests, or cats hunching their backs and getting their fur up, high status cues simply make something look LARGER. Large is threatening, large doesn’t like to be attacked. Large is in charge.
But do high status cues affect how big we think something is? To test this, a group of researchers at Georgetown University ran a series of experiments, carefully breaking the question of status and size into four questions:
1) Do high status cues make a person seem taller?
To test the first question, the authors photographed a bunch of actors sitting and standing in various poses, and asked study participants to guess how tall the actor was. It turns out that actors in high status and neutral posts looked taller than low status poses (interestingly, high status poses also made people appear heavier). So it appears that high status cues make someone seem taller than they might otherwise.
2) If you alter the perceived size of someone, does it change their perceived status?
To do this one, the authors did some photo-editing. They took a picture of the same person standing in a neutral pose. They then altered it by changing the visual cues around them, making the person seem taller or shorter. Observe:
journal.pone.0005707.g001.png
You’ll notice the guy on the right looks a lot shorter than the guy on the left. Same guy, same photo. Ah, the miracles of photoshop.
They then asked their participants to rate the STATUS of the person in the photo, as well as their height. Photos which had been altered to make a person appear taller also increased the amount of status they were perceived to have. This part of the study confirmed that increased height implies increased status to many people.
3) Do high status cues change how much space we think someone takes up?
The methods behind this one were a little odd. In this case, the authors took the usual photos of actors in positions of high or low status, and then created silhouettes of where the people had been standing. Using this silhouette in pictures, they measures how much space the person took up when standing in high, low, or neutral poses. The high status cues made the actors have both taller and wider silhouettes, making them appear larger. Not only that, low status cues made the target appear shorter and thinner, and take up less space, even though their actual size never changed. So it seems that high and low status cues DO alter the amount of space someone takes up, a big deal when you’re trying to improve your perceived size, to ACTUALLY get bigger.
4) Do specific high status affect both status perception and dominance?
This last experiment was also the most simple. They took all the pictures of high and low status poses and asked participants how tall, and how dominant the people in the pictures were. Unsurprisingly, the people with high status cues were seen as more dominant, but they were also perceived as being taller than they actually were.
By asking all four of these questions, the researchers could gain a consistent picture of how status cues affect someone’s perceived size. Then, if specific cues are known to be high status, and high status cues make people seem taller, you might be able to imply that high status cues work by making the person seem larger, and thus more dominant.
And that’s what they found. High dominance cues make you seem more dominant, sure, but they may also make you seem LARGER. And it appears, from the above experiments, that the perception of “larger” is part of what makes these high and low status cues so effective. The appeal of “postural openness” appeared to be best, thrown back shoulders and standing up straight. I guess the appeal of Tom Cruise (5’5″ or so, all his ladies tower over him) might be his high status cues, which make him seem larger. Coupled, of course, with a really good camera angle.
Of course, there are issues with the study. They had a relatively small group of people viewing, and there were more women tested than men, which can skew the results. And of course, it’s hard to REALLY separate height from status cues. I could see a good control for that by maybe showing only the waist up, to cut out how long people’s legs might look.
Now, this doesn’t mean that if you’re short, you’re SOL. Far from it, in fact. It means that, if you want to appear to have higher status, confidence, and nonverbal social cues, can go a long way. Throw your shoulders back, stand up straight, and point at things! Socially dominant cues and confidence may be able to make up for some…shortcomings. If you know what I mean.
Marsh, A., Yu, H., Schechter, J., & Blair, R. (2009). Larger than Life: Humans’ Nonverbal Status Cues Alter Perceived Size PLoS ONE, 4 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005707

24 Responses

  1. If you make a 2% error in height, it means a 6% error in weight. That is about the difference between two weight classes in Olympic boxing. So maybe it boils down to recognizing brute force…

  2. In other words, the ladies like it if the guys are fully erect.

  3. I think in general women prefer guys taller than them and men prefer woman shorter than them. Thus a really tall hot woman might find it hard to get dates when most males are shorter and likewise a hot looking short man might not get dates if most women are taller. OT: I really wish you would go back to left justified text, reading center paragraphes make thing harder to read.

  4. It’s left-justified in my monitor…I always write left justified, I think center sucks. Problem with the platform, maybe? Definitely not me, though.
    Also, Sci should point out that she is one long, tall drink of water, and yet has dated many men shorter than her. If they have the right kind of confidence, it doesn’t matter whether they are taller.

  5. Nice Post.
    This so happens to be in an area of personal expertise, so let me share another study.
    The same person gave the same lecture to two different lecture hall classes in the same subject.
    In one case, the speaker was introduced as being a graduate student. In the other, the speaker was a PhD, with a long list of credentials.
    In the post speech survey, a question about the height of the speaker was slipped in. Turns out, the Grad Student was perceived to be almost 5 inches shorter than the PhD speaker(but they were the same person).
    So, social clues of status affect our perception of physical size. That’s another reason Tom Cruse’s height is seen as higher: he is a movie star.
    Tall women make more money than short men in the same profession, BTW, so the effect is universal.
    However, you are right, there are gender differences. Woman are attracted more to status than looks (but not consciously. If you ask woman, they say looks, but actual studies, where the woman subjects don’t know the hidden variables, reveal that status is the real attractor.) Men say and are more attracted to looks than status.
    I could go on and on about all the gender studies, but let me leave you with just one more.
    A study of a dating site showed that woman made a trade off between height and income. Very tall men with low incomes got the same number of woman to write them as short men with high incomes. I don’t remember the exact data, but it was pretty much a straight line. A 6’3″ guy with $40K got the same attention as the 5’3″ guy with an income of about $600K.
    Again, Tom Cruise has money, a social cue, so he’s both perceived as taller and the money all by itself raises his social status.
    Even Popes get into the act: high alters and hats like steeples to make them look taller.
    Regards
    Michael

  6. Is there any problem that can’t be solved with funny hats?

  7. You’ll notice the guy on the right looks a lot shorter than the guy on the left. Same guy, same photo.

    Actually, they don’t. There must be something I’m missing, because I can’t imagine why someone would think they were other than the same height. What did you (not) do to the picture?
    I guess if I was a woman I’d have an awful hard time picking a mate.

  8. “You’ll notice the guy on the right looks a lot shorter than the guy on the left. Same guy, same photo.”
    Nuh-Uh. He doesn’t look shorter, just that he lives in a house with giant outlets. It’d be interesting to see another picture with the outlet height changed, but not the outlet size.

  9. Okay, so I need to grow a couple of inches in order to find me a good lady, is that what you’re saying? 5’10” just don’t cut it no more? Hmm, must find a way to subtly alter height cues around me🙂
    And to agree with Pepper, the guy on the right really does look like he just uses novelty outlets…

  10. hmmm. Perhaps he doesn’t look SHORTER. But to me he’s not as appealing. He looks less powerful, and more pathetic. The fact that his pants are too high is more obvious. His shoulders look more slumped.
    Also, height could be a first impression, the participants weren’t exposed to the photos for long, while people here have lots of opportunity to note the novelty size of the light switch.

  11. google – the calling by max igan

  12. Women just want money from men.

  13. I am pretty sure the researches did not show the pictures side by side. The question then becomes, seeing only one, what does one judge the height and status to be. Then I think the answer becomes obvious.

  14. After I got older and stopped turning down shorter men, I got married to a handsome, talented man 1/2 an inch shorter than myself. We have been together for four years and are among the happiest couples we know, possibly because we chose each other for compatibility, mutual interests and similar life goals. Nevertheless, this isn’t a ‘so there’ post; we all know that the exceptions prove the rule. This is just a post of interest:
    We perform together as musicians. Recently, for purposes of staging, we bought him a fine pair of engineer boots that make him look taller than me. He does love them, and I do rather enjoy resting my head on his shoulder. I also look forward to noting different reactions people may have to our act and to us (most especially my mother, who was disappointed that he wasn’t taller.)

  15. Funny, I’m a rather tall girl (5’10”), who consistently dates shorter men. Often just barely shorter, but I’ve only dated taller men a couple of times. And I don’t think it’s random, when I check out guys I’m attracted to shorter men. My type is short, kinda built, usually with dark hair.
    I’ve wondered if maybe its some crazy genetic thing, both sides of my family are all really, really tall English and Norwegian. Maybe I’m unconsciously increasing the genetic diversity of future children by going for the shorties?

  16. Funny, I’m a rather tall girl (5’10”), who consistently dates shorter men. Often just barely shorter, but I’ve only dated taller men a couple of times. And I don’t think it’s random, when I check out guys I’m attracted to shorter men. My type is short, kinda built, usually with dark hair.
    I’ve wondered if maybe its some crazy genetic thing, both sides of my family are all really, really tall English and Norwegian. Maybe I’m unconsciously increasing the genetic diversity of future children by going for the shorties?

  17. I’ve heard similar results before. I would probably have to read the papers to get the exact numbers. But it’s relevant to include the “size” or “magnitude” of these selection/preference effects– especially when talking about income differences between taller and shorter. In reality, the size of these selection effects are quite small and easily balanced by numerous competing factors– something like 3% on hourly wage/10 cm in one study. http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20090517/lf_afp/lifestylesciencelabouraustralia
    The more interesting thing to consider is the positive feedback loop that height may have on a multitude of life factors: confidence, wages, mate selection, social status– and when all these factors are added together what sort of advantage results. Common sense would lead me to hypothesize it averages to at most a small net gain– since I don’t see a short underclass, but I could be blind.
    Another question is: does height actual as opposed to perceived advantage anymore? I don’t see a clear advantage anymore, but clearly in bygone eras of typical Darwinian evolution I can easily rationalize height being beneficial.
    Disclosure: Male, 5’7″ with no explicit or articulated preference for female height

  18. Was there any correlation with the size of the people doing the judging? To a 5 footer, everyone else seems tall.

  19. As a tall (6’6”) and single guy that’s been on the market for a while, I call BS

  20. As a tall (6’6”) and single guy that’s been on the market for a while, I call BS

    As someone who understands statistics and the concept of population, I call anecdotal evidence on your comment…

  21. The reason people may be getting center justified may be due to just before your post there is possibly a center that is not properly turned off in this area? At least it appears that way to me. Everything is center justified.

  22. The reason people may be getting center justified may be due to just before your post there is possibly a center that is not properly turned off in this area? At least it appears that way to me. Everything is center justified.

  23. For me I think size doesn’t matter at all it depends on how you handle or you use your size whether you are short, tall, long, small and big.

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