Sep 032008

Certain older Japanese art has a curious feature: figures such as Confucious and the Bhudda are portrayed as giants among the normal-sized people. This is not because the artists believed these figures to be larger than normal human beings, but to show their greater status.

Size or height also has interesting relationships within the human mind with status. For example, a psychology study had a person introduced to a class as a fellow student and the class was asked to record what they thought was the guest’s height. The same person was introduced to another class as a Professor’s Assistant (or similar) and their height was again recorded. Finally, the person was introduced to class as a full Professor and their height was estimated by the class. Guess how the height was found? As the person’s status went up, the height estimates also went up. I think the status-height link is one of the reasons people think celebrities are taller than they are and are disappointed when they meet and say, “I thought you were taller”.

While status can influence size, it goes the other way, too. Taller people tend to have greater status in society. While the following may be a case of a correlation doesn’t mean causation error, I believe that someone’s height causes others around them to perceive them as higher status, and with higher status comes greater benefits, including access to resources such as food and mating opportunities. For example, I recall the top 3 tallest members of indigenous tribes have 7 times as many affairs as the bottom 3 shortest people. One study I recall reading about suggested that for every additional inch of height a person has, they make an additional almost $800 dollars a year. Another thing is that taller people are grossly disproportionately respresented among upper management. Put another way: “In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell says that 30% of Fortune 500 CEOs are 6-foot-2 and taller (vs. just 4% of all men).” More information about unconscious biases related to business positions are here, including that leaders are White, held by both White folk and non-White folk. Another post by the ever insightful Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) highlights the same issue here. Here’s an excerpt: “Hair and height are great predictors of future careers. If you’re a guy with a good head of hair, and you’re over 6’4”, you’ll probably have a career in upper management.”

Essentially, size and status are correlated in our minds because of a heuristic (mental shortcut) that says they’re porportionally related. I’d imagine this has some evolutionary root, potentially because taller/bigger people have an advantage in fights and hunting, as well being able to run faster. Another possible reason (though not mutually exclusive with the first), is that height is a sign of better nutrition, so it might suggest the ability of that person to feed themselves in the past, either by simply being higher status and thus being given more of the food, or by hunting it by themselves.

Author’s Note: This is the sort of blog post that I thought this blog mighe be about. Interesting facts and theories tied together. Essentially, if you enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, you might enjoy my blog, was the idea. How did you like it?

  One Response to “Japanese Art, Size and Status”

  1. […] is certainly a force that affects us. Evolution-based biases and thinking biases that seem universal. Evolution has also shaped our minds to include reasoning […]

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>