60-Second Science

People in Power Feel Taller

A person in a position of power will overestimate their height. Cynthia Graber reports

It’s known that taller people tend to have more jobs with more authority—and higher salaries. But there’s a flip side—the more powerful a person is, the taller he or she feels.

The researchers who investigated this phenomenon were inspired by the BP chairman’s comment after the oil spill about the “small people.” There are many such metaphors—think “big man on campus.” Could these metaphors influence—or reflect—reality? Might powerful people actually overestimate how tall they are?

Scientists created three experiments with nearly 300 participants. In each, the participants were made to feel more or less powerful: being chosen as, say, a manager versus an underling. Then they faced a task in which they estimated their own height—comparing their actual height to a pole, for example, or choosing the height of an online avatar.

In each case, when the participants were in a position of power, they represented their height as significantly taller than those in weaker positions. The research was published in the journal Psychological Science. [Michelle M. Duguid and Jack A. Goncalo, "Living Large: The Powerful Overestimate Their Own Height"]

So, the researchers conclude, the “beleaguered CEO of BP” inadvertently led them a new finding. When we feel powerful, we feel on top of the world—or, quite literally, tall.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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