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Short People Got … Lots of Reasons to Legitimately Feel Paranoid

A virtual-reality study sheds light on the way non-tall people perceive the world.

by Diane Cole
Publication: National Geographic

February 16, 2014


The following is an excerpt from a National Geographic article that quotes Management Professor Tim Judge on the impact of height and personal success. To read the entire article visit: Short People Got … Lots of Reasons to Legitimately Feel Paranoid


Your physical height can affect your emotional state of mind, according to a new study.

We already know that language bestows positive value on people of tall stature: We look up to them rather than down. And various studies have found correlations between being taller and earning more.

Now virtual reality is adding to the understanding of the short state of mind. A study conducted at Oxford University and published in December 2013 used avatars to let participants go through the virtual experience of riding a subway at their normal height and then at that height reduced by ten inches.

For the study, 60 women—none with a history of mental illness, but all of whom had recently reported mistrustful thoughts—donned headsets and viewed monitors as they participated in two 3-D virtual-reality trips on the London subway system. They were able to move and interact with other virtual passengers, exchanging glances or looking away from others, for instance.

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But Timothy Judge, a management professor at the University of Notre Dame who has also studied the impact of height on professional earnings, believes that studies correlating height with professional or personal success "highlight that we are a very appearance-based culture." Moreover, he says, "as we become more and more of a visual and technology-based society, there are reasons to worry that there won't be much to slow down appearance-based judgments." On the other hand, if we only get to know people via computer, perhaps height might become less important.

Judge further worries that this increased emphasis may not bode well for the little old lady—or little old man—who, in addition to being subject to stereotypes about aging may also have to contend with additional negative assumptions about height. "If we live into our 80s, we shave off about two- or two-and-a-half inches on average," says Judge, "and I think that is one of the factors that contributes to ageism."

The presence of such stereotypes makes it all the more important to be aware of and examine any biases we may harbor, says Judge.