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.
Next, 21 pairs of men played the Dictator Game against each other. They were introduced before the game and told they were each other’s opponents. They were given chips representing 10-cent coins and could decide how many they kept for themselves. They then played another game – the Ultimatum Game – which was similar to the Dictator Game except the players could see how much money their opponent had allocated to them and accept or reject the offer. Rejection led to neither participant receiving any money.
The researchers found that short men were more likely to keep more money if their opponent was taller only in the Dictator Game. The shortest men kept an average of 14 out of 18 coins for themselves, but the tallest man only kept nine.
However, smaller men weren’t greedier in the Ultimatum Game, nor were they aggressive in another game that involved spiking their opponent’s drink with hot chili sauce.
Therefore, the researchers concluded that short men are more likely to alter their behavior to secure resources when they feel physically less competitive, but only when there are no repercussions.
So, short guys might not be more aggressive to your face, but they might try and sneakily get ahead if they’re feeling a bit small.