In the genetic lottery that doles out height, those who get a few extra inches are the winners; or so science suggests. Aside from learning to live with nicknames like Stretch, Jolly Green Giant and Amazonian, studies examining the virtues of tall-versus-short conclude that above-average height confers distinct advantages.
Researchers say that tall people make more money (up to an extra $1,000 a year or so in wages), are better educated, and are happier, among other things. Not to mention the fact that they are more presidential – one study found that of 43 American presidents, only five of them were below average height.
How is all of this supposed to make more diminutive people feel? Inferior? Paranoid? Well, according to the latest in short-people research: yes.
In a study published by the journal Psychiatry Research, researchers found that decreasing a person's height in a virtual experiment made them feel poorly about themselves, mistrustful, and more fearful that others were trying to hurt them, Reuters reports.
"Being tall is associated with greater career and relationship success. Height is taken to convey authority and we feel taller when we feel more powerful," said study leader, Daniel Freeman, of Britain's University of Oxford.
For the study, sixty adult women who were susceptible to having "mistrustful thoughts" were sent on two virtual reality train journeys, once at their normal height and once again at a height reduced by 25 centimeters (almost 10 inches).
While for most of the participants the size reduction was barely discernable, more of them reported negative thoughts about themselves – such as incompetence, inferiority, and being unlikable – during the short phase of the experiment.
The feelings manifested an increase in paranoia towards the other passengers, the researchers said; the women were more likely to think that they were being stared at and that other passengers in the train car had bad intentions towards them or were attempting to provoke them.
While the researchers who studied tall presidents concluded that our preference for looming leaders is the result of leftover “caveman instincts” which draw us toward strong, tall commanders who will protect us; no similar evolutionary biology theory was suggested with the paranoia study. One might conclude that paranoia in someone with shorter stature might be a vestige of a similar caveman instinct and an ensuing vulnerability.
But the Oxford researchers say that the key here is low self-esteem and how that can incite paranoid thinking; findings which they hope may lead to the development of more effective psychological treatments for paranoia.
"It provides a key insight into paranoia, showing that people's excessive mistrust of others directly builds upon their own negative feelings about themselves," said Freeman.
"The important treatment implication is that if we help people to feel more self-confident then they will be less mistrustful," he added.
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