Along with my former doctoral student Professor Tripat Gill, I recently started collecting data on a new project on men’s perceived heights in specific consumer settings. As part of our literature review, we identified a relevant oldie but a goodie study from 1968 authored by Paul R. Wilson and published in the Journal of Social Psychology (I served as a consulting editor of the journal from 2006 through 2012). In today’s post, I’d like to briefly describe the findings of Wilson’s study. Prior to doing so, interested readers might wish to check out some of my earlier Psychology Today articles on height here, here, and here. Also, click here for the trailer of a 2008 documentary titled S&M: Short and Male in which I appeared (look for me around the 50 seconds mark).

While several studies have explored the height advantage in various settings (e.g., that tall men are more likely to be CEOs of large companies; the preference that women hold for taller men as prospective mates), an issue that has been addressed much less frequently is the height perception of the same man as a function of the status that is ascribed to him. In other words, if we were to take the same individual, and describe him as having low or high status, would people estimate his height differently across status conditions?

This is precisely the study that Wilson conducted more than four decades ago. A gentleman was introduced to one of five groups of students (n = 22 in each group) in one of five ways: as a student, a demonstrator, a lecturer, a senior lecturer, or a professor. Once the individual had left the room, the participants were asked to estimate his height to the nearest half-inch. Here are the findings (in half-inches) across the five conditions (see Table 1, p. 99 for the full details).

Student: 139.727

Demonstrator: 140.772

Lecturer: 141.727

Senior Lecturer: 143.138

Professor: 144.636

The means across the five groups were statistically different from one another (p < .001). Subsequent pair-wise comparisons (see Table 2, p. 100 for the full statistical results) revealed the following statistically significant differences (p < . 05) between:

Student and Senior Lecturer

Student and Professor

Demonstrator and Senior Lecturer

Demonstrator and Professor

Lecturer and Professor

In other words, while adjacent status levels did not yield any statistically significant differences in perceived height estimates, once the ascribed status difference was equal to two or more grades, significant effects were found. This is good news for me, as I am a “height challenged" man but I am a chaired full professor...I am tall!

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