Short Men Really Are More Aggressive – But Not In The Way You Think

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Once upon a time, a rangy military commander told Napoleon Bonaparte that he was uncomfortable about being taller than his leader. Apparently, Napoleon replied, “You may be taller, but I am greater.”

Napoleon himself was 1.7 meters (5 foot 7 inches), while other historical dictators were also fairly wee – Stalin was 1.65 meters (5’5″), Franco was 1.62 meters (5’4″), and Hitler was 1.73 meters (5’8″). But is the so-called Napoleon complex real? Do shorter men compensate for their lack of height with aggressiveness and selfish behavior? Well, new research suggests they might in quite a subtle way.     

A new study, published by the Association for Psychological Science, suggests that while they aren’t more likely to be physically aggressive face to face, small men are more likely to be indirectly aggressive when in competition for resources with taller men.

As the researchers note in their paper, previous research has shown that tall men do seem to have an advantage in life. They are generally healthier and better educated, have a higher social standing at work, are more likely to hold positions of power, and are generally seen as more attractive. It’s fair enough that short men might be feeling a little inadequate.

To conduct their study, the researchers used a series of games. First, they conducted a pilot study, using both men and women. The participants filled in a questionnaire about whether they ever felt small, and then mingled with one another to get a sense of each other’s heights. They then played the Dictator Game. This involved sitting in an isolated cubicle and being given eight 1 coins in an envelope. They were told they could take as many coins as they liked, and any left behind would be given to other participants. They found that when men felt small, they took more coins, but the same effect was not found for women.

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