We perceive people as taller if they have a prestigious job title.

We see people as taller if they have a prestigious job title.

Is a first officer of an aeroplane always shorter than the captain? Of course not. Many first officers will become captains, and I assume most have finished growing upwards before they become pilots. But the prestige of the captain’s title lends him an air of authority which results in his being perceived as taller.

In cultures around the world size is associated with value, even in children. Desserts which children like the most are estimated as larger, for example. And coins are rated as larger if their value is higher.

It is the same with people. People are rated as more dominant if they are bigger and they are estimated to be bigger if they are more dominant. The equation of dominance and size seemed to be hard-wired into us.

However, Blaker and Van Vugt concluded from their studies that the equation of prestige and size is likely to be learned from culture. Children see bigger people as more dominant, but not as having more prestige. Adults rate bigger people as more dominant and prestigious.

The equation goes both ways. Adults also estimate people with prestigious job titles as being taller than they really are.


Find out more about how the mind plays tricks on you and how your memory works by reading my books, Bias Beware and Memory Matters.