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The short and the tall of power

 

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Glenn Milne and Bob Hawke explained. Powerful people feel taller than they are. That’s the finding of the latest research from Jack A. Goncalo of Cornell University and Michelle M. Duguid of Washington University published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The two authors were prompted to make enquiries when, after the huge 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the chairman of BP referred to the victims of the spill as the “small people.” He explained it as awkward word choice by a non-native speaker of English, but the academics wondered if there was something real behind it. In their study, they found that people who feel powerful tend to overestimate their own height — they feel physically larger than they actually are.

Maybe there’s a physical experience that goes along with being powerful,” says Goncalo who summarised the study this way:

For people who are less powerful, maybe other people and objects loom larger, and for the powerful everything else just seems smaller”. Plenty of research has shown that taller people are more likely to acquire power; taller people make more money, on average, and are more likely to be promoted. But our research is the first to show the reverse may also be true power also makes people feel taller.

In one experiment, subjects came to the lab in pairs. First they had their heights measured. Then they were given a leadership aptitude test and told that, based on their feedback, they would each be assigned to play the role of the manager or the employee. They were given fake feedback, then randomly assigned a role. After that, each person filled out a questionnaire with personal information, including eye color and height.

People who had been told they would be the manager, with complete control over the work process and power to evaluate the employee, said they were taller than the actual measurement. The subject who had been told they would be the employee gave a height that was more or less the same as their real height.

Other experiments found similar results — that people who feel powerful overestimate their height. So maybe Carl-Henric Svanberg really did feel taller than the people affected by the Gulf oil spill. The results may also explain why diminutive leaders might still behave like people twice their height — they actually feel taller.

Given that height is associated with power, raising your height may make you feel powerful,” Goncalo says — which helps explain the continuing popularity of high heels and offices on the top floor.

But then, there is an alternative view.

Expensive egos. Continuing on with my psychological theme, the personality trait narcissism may have an especially negative effect on the health of men, according to a recent study published in PLoS ONE.

Narcissistic men may be paying a high price in terms of their physical health, in addition to the psychological cost to their relationships,” says Sara Konrath, a University of Michigan psychologist who co-authored the study. The personality trait is characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, overestimations of uniqueness, and a sense of grandiosity.

Ms Konrath refers people to a site where they can test their own narcissistic tendencies. I’m not sure what I think of my own result.

A suitable girl. It took me almost that long to read A Suitable Boy so I should not get too upset that Vikram Seth reckons that it might be a couple of years until he finishes its sequel t0 be called A Suitable Girl.

The original was one of the great pleasures of my reading life and the news given on that wonderful BBC program Desert Island Disks that I’ll be able to resume the story 60 years on has made my day.

2
  • 1
    zut alors
    Posted Tuesday, 24 January 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Not that I would ever encourage anyone to lay a glove on the venerable founder of Crikey but it did my heart good to see the still of Glenn Milne in his best debate mode. Surely one of the gutter press’s finest hours.

  • 2
    klewso
    Posted Wednesday, 25 January 2012 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    Milne and Hawke - “Hair by Grandpa Munster”, too?
    We know Milne’s bats for a start.

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