Jennifer L. Jacques
 Height and Perceived Social Status:
Is Taller Better?

 
Background Research Question Method
Results Implications Relevant Links

Background

This research focuses on an individual’s sense of status and success in the social climate as resulting from one’s height/stature. Prior research demonstrates that an individual’s economic as well as social success is contigent on one’s height. Society adopts a tendency to attribute more dominant characteristics to those of taller stature; and also view them as more charismatic, effective leaders versus those of short stature. A review of this literature was explored in this domain and metriculated in the experiment. Participants in this study are both male and female undergraduate students, ages ranging from 18-22. Participants in the experimental condition were taken from a subject pool of General Psychology students and were participating for course credit, while participants in the control condition were volunteers. The experimental condition consisted of eight people (four males and four females.) The control condition had two males and four females. The experimental method employed in this study involved questionnaires designed by the experimenter, based on the above characteristics, for the sole purposes of this research. A suspicion index was also used as a follow-up method to detect a possible presence of the “good participant effect.” 
The findings in this study indicated a significance level of p=.037, as well as a p=.019 , on a significance level of p<.05 on two respective questions. The p level of .037 and . 019 indicates that there is a significant difference between the control and experimental groups for these particular questions. These results suggest that for these particular questions, the experimental group answered these questions based on height, that the control group did not account for. The main conclusion that is drawn from this research is that the experimental group was made aware of the height factor and thus, influenced their results of the particular two questions answered which show statistical significance. This height factor was not brought to the attention of the control group and therefore did not affect their answers. 

 

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Research Question
 
My hypotheses for this study are as follows: Individuals of tall stature possess a societal advantage versus shorter individuals in numerous realms due to the more positive regard that is denoted to them. Secondly, stemming from this hypotheses, it would be logical to posit that individuals will thus overestimate or underestimate their height pertaining to social desirability in respect to gender. Thirdly, I hypothesize that individuals of short stature are viewed as easier to approach; with their height being the first characteristic noticed about them. 
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Method

participants
Participants used in the experimental condition were General Psychology students who participated for course credit. There were four males and four females, and their ages ranged from 18-21. Participants used in the control condition were volunteers, ages ranging from 20-22. This condition consisted of two males and three females. All are Saint Anselm College Students. 
materials
Each condition was given the same questionnaires to complete. The first questionnaire was designed by the experimenter and corresponds with a picture taken also by the experimenter for the sole purposes of this research design. The picture contained five individuals, two males and three females, grouped by gender. A tall male and a short male were used as well as a tall and short female, with one female of average height in the middle. Individuals in the picture were dressed in khaki pants and dress shirts to convey attire as though they were about to attend a potential job interview. The questionnaire consisted of 49 questions which were asked to gain feedback about the picture. Some of the questions were based on a Likert scale ranging from one to seven (one being the lesser value, with four to five denoting moderate levels), and the rest were open-ended format questions. A measuring tape was also used to record participants’ heights in the experimental condition.
A second survey, a “Suspicion Index,” with three open-ended format questions was used to gain feedback from participants regarding their overall experience as participants in the experiment, and to gain possible insights as to if they thought that the experimenter may actually be examining something other than stated. Reliability and validity of the questionnaires is yet to be determined.
procedure
Participants in the control condition were first given informed consent forms which were signed stating that all research conducted was done so by standards per the American Psychological Association and instructed participants that they may cease their participation at any time. Participants were then told that the experimenter was interested in examining certain physical characteristics which have been shown to influence job interviews. They were told that the individuals in the pictures were dressed as though they were going to be attending a job interview. This was to avoid possible biases and the “good participant effect.” Participants in the experimental condition were then asked to come up and get their questionnaires and corresponding pictures. As they did, the experimenter recorded each individual’s height as they estimated it to be. Before participants returned to their seats to begin filling out the first questionnaire, an assistant to the experimenter measured each individual (with their shoes on) using a measuring tape. Subjects’ estimated as well as actual height was written at the top of their survey, so as to coordinate survey question responses with their own height for the experimenter’s purposes.
Samples of the questions asked include: “How easily (on a Likert scale of one to seven), could you approach the individual labeled number one in the picture and start a casual conversation with him based on his appearance?” One on the likert scale was representative of no difficulty, three to four was moderate difficulty coupled with feelings of nervousness, and seven was the extreme; that is, the person would be unable to approach the individual at all in the picture. Other questions asked participants to estimate the height of the person in the picture, and to guess their major based strictly on physical appearances. Other questions were asked to distract participants of variables actually being examined such as those geared to obtain background information about the participants (e.g., weight, eye color, hair color, etc.)These questions are actually irrelevant to the purposes of this study. 
The second survey was a “Suspicion Index” geared to detect whether or not participants picked up on the fact that the experimenter was actually examining height and perceived social status, and not how physical characteristics influence job interviews as stated at the start of the experiment.
Lastly, after all questionnaires were collected, debriefing forms were distributed detailing all aspects of the study, and to reiterate that the results as well as their identities would remain anonymous and would only be used for the sole purposes of the study. Participants were also asked not to reveal any aspects or information of the study for the rest of the academic semester, for fear of confounding. 
Testing was conducted in a classroom setting, and participants were given as much time as needed to fill out each questionnaire and were asked to stay until all were done, so as to receive their debriefing statements simultaneously.
Participants in the control group were not asked by the experimenter what their estimated height was (although it is background question on the questionnaire), nor were they measured. They were simply given informed consent forms and asked to fill out both questionnaires aforementioned. They were also given a debriefing form to fill out after completion of the surveys. These participants were volunteers and were asked to complete these questionnaires at their convenience, thus, the setting for testing varied. Participants in this group were not told that the experimenter was looking at how physical characteristics influence job interviews, they were simply given the pictures and the questionnaires and asked to fill them out while attending to the pictures.
 
 

 

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Results

The findings in this study indicated significance on two particular questions out of ten total, with a significance value at p<.05. The siginificance levels found on the two respective questions were: p=.037, and .019. This is denotative of a significant difference between the control and experimental conditions. It is thus posited that the experimental conditon answered these two particular questions while selectively attending to height. This is not seen in regards to the control condition. Also drawn from this research is the notion of making individuals publicly self-aware. The experimental condition was made aware of their own measurement of height, while the control condition was not. 
 

Significance was found on question 17 which asked: “How friendly do you think this individual is?(based solely on what you see?) Question 17 was in regards to individual number one in the picture, the tallest male. The mean answer from group one for this question was a 5, indicating moderate to higher levels of friendliness. The mean answer for group two for the same question was a 4.33, on the lower end of the moderate level. Question number 18, also indicative of significance, was in regards to the second male in the picture, the shorter of the two shown. Question number 18 asked: “How easily could you approach individual labeled number two in the picture and start a casual conversation with him based solely on his appearance?” The mean answer from group one on this question was a 2.87, denoting little to no difficulty approaching him and engaging in conversation. The mean response from group two was a 1.7, also denoting no difficulty. Conclusions which can be drawn are that people have no difficulty approaching a male who is short due to his height, but may attribute a taller individual to be only moderately friendly because he is tall. See table two for the Independent Samples T Test. It is important to note the significance on questions 17 and 18.

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Implications

An individual’s stature influences the sort of  first impressions that others form; as well as those attributions that they make about a person based on their height. An individual who is short has a complexing psychosocial stressor of gaining confidence in forming a positive image of oneself. (Lindeman, 1999.) Stature is also indicative of how one views the self. Shorter individuals, notably males, are in a general sense seen by others as submissive, weak, and insecure. On the reverse, those of taller stature are viewed more positively and likely to succeed. Height thus shapes the realm of the social dimension; interactions are controlled to some extent by how tall or short an individual is. (Voss, 1999.)
 Much is to be said of the emphatic presence of an individual’s height in regards to interpersonal attraction. The "Male Taller Norm" (Martel & Biller, 1987, as cited in Voss, 1999)  or the "Male Taller Bias" (Cameron, Oskamp, & Sparks, 1977; Martel & Biller, 1987; Grazian, Brothen, & Berscheid, 1978, as cited in Hensley,1994), cradles the dating framework in our society.  The norm has, and continues to be for the male in a heterosexual relationship to be taller or as tall as the female. The male as taller is preferable.(Martel & Biller, 1987, as cited in Voss, 1999.)Berscheid & Walster (1974) call this notion a "cardinal principle of date selection." (as cited in Hensely, 1994.)
 Much is to be said of the emphatic presence of an individual’s height in regards to interpersonal attraction. The "Male Taller Norm" (Martel & Biller, 1987, as cited in Voss, 1999)  or the "Male Taller Bias" (Cameron, Oskamp, & Sparks, 1977; Martel & Biller, 1987; Grazian, Brothen, & Berscheid, 1978, as cited in Hensley,1994), cradles the dating framework in our society.  The norm has, and continues to be for the male in a heterosexual relationship to be taller or as tall as the female. The male as taller is preferable.(Martel & Biller, 1987, as cited in Voss, 1999.)Berscheid & Walster (1974) call this notion a "cardinal principle of date selection." (as cited in Hensely, 1994.)
It would thus be appropriate to draw the conclusion that socially, a taller male has attained a sort of advantage versus shorter males in dating selection. A field study by Feingold (1982),(as cited in Hensley, 1994) found that the taller a male was, the higher the rating for attractiveness assigned to their girlfriend. Tall males are more apt to possess a higher selection for dating, but the same does not apply to tall females. Shorter females would hence gain the same or similar adaptational social value as the tall males when it comes to dating.(Gillis & Avis, 1980, as cited in Voss, 1999.)In a study by Hensley (1994), it was discovered that out of 145 females participating in his study, 32% felt that six feet was an ideal height for potential male dating partners. Berscheid and Walster (1974), (as cited in Pierce, 1996), posit that body height is much more central to a male’s physical attractiveness than a female’s height. Male height is in the dating arena, an important physical attribute, one which females place more importance on in regards to mate selection than do males, when selecting a female. (Pierce, 1996.)
 A look at singles classified ads in the newspapers found that males who listed their height (specifically, tallness) received more feedback from females than those who listed that they were short. (Lynn & Shurgot, 1984, as cited in Pierce, 1996.) 

Discussion
Interpretation of Results
Height is a particularly challenging construct to assess without any hinderances from the “good participant effect,” in that individuals may answer according to societal norms with attention to gender, and previously formed individual schemas about height. Results on the Likert scaled questions was a part of this study and only showed significance on two respective questions, to two unrelated individuals. These questions were also measuring very different ideas. Question 17, which showed significance, was looking at perceptions of how friendly or outgoing participants speculated individual number one in the picture they viewed. Individual number one was the tall male of the group, and the mean response for group one was 5, while for group 2, it was a 4.33. These responses would convey moderate levels of friendliness for the tall male. These findings neither support nor reject my hypotheses, for the mean response denotes moderate levels. 
The second question showing significance is question 18, which was applied to the short male in the picture (individual labeled as number two.) This question was examining how easily participants felt that they could approach him and start a casual conversation with him, based solely on his appearance. The mean response for group one was a 2.88 (which notes little to no difficulty in approaching him.) The mean response for group two was a 1.67, conveying no difficulty at all in approaching the short male. This supports the third part of my hypothesis, which proposes that shorter individuals will be seen as much more approachable than taller individuals. It is important to note that with the questions which displayed significance, both were in regards to males; and there were only two males in the study. This cradles previous literature in that these certain connations seem predominantly carried by males in our society. (See Voss, 1999; Hensley, 1994; Berscheid and Walster, 1974, as cited in Pierce, 1996.)
One possible confound to significance in question 18 is the fact that the male is wearing a baseball hat. This may give him a more casual look, thus making him more approachable than his taller peer.
When subjects in the experimental condition first entered the classroom and were given their questionnaires, they were asked how tall they were. This estimated height was recorded at the top of their survey. Next, the participants were measured, and that actual height was also recorded at the top of their survey. Three out of four females underestimated their height by at least half an inch, while half of the males overestimated their height also by at least half an inch. This supports my hypothesis that males will adopt overestimation trends when asked to detail their height, and females will conversely adopt an underestimation trend. This is indicative of societal norms and preferentials. (See also Schlichting et. al., 1981; Palta et. al., 1987, as cited in Imrhan et. al., 1996.) A study by Pirie et. al., 1981, (as cited in Hensley, 1998), also found similar ideas in accordance with gender; that is, males adopt a tendency to overestimate their own height, while females tend to underestimate. This ties back to Hensley’s (1998), idea that if this notion is accurate, self-reported height would be a permutation of actual and desired height.
Question number eight on the survey asked participants if they felt that their own height had influenced the impressions which others had formed upon meeting them. Three out of eight total participants said no, while the remaining five said yes. In Group number two, only one participant out of six felt that their height had influenced others’ first impressions of them based on height, while the remaining five said no. This may be an indicator of the notion that group one was sensitized to their own height prior to filling out this questionnaire, and may have thus been more self-conscious of their own height while answering these questions. Comments in regards to this question from each group were such that participants felt that “Individuals of ‘normal height,’ stand out less than those at one extreme or the other. One female subject noted that she is particularly smaller than most people her age and speculated that she is not taken as seriously as someone who is, in fact, taller. The remaining participants who felt that their height had influenced first impressions in regards to themselves all commented that they felt that their personality compensated for what taller height may not immediately produce.
In regards to individual number one (the tallest male) in the picture viewed by participants, all volunteers in group two guessed his major to be business. In group one, half of the participants guessed business. Other responses included criminal justice and Biology. When asked what the first thing that participants in group one (the experimental condition)noticed about the taller male in the picture, half said height. This would support my hypothesis that height is in fact, one of the very first things noticed about an individual, and whether the individual is tall or short, certain attributions will be made accordingly. More than half of the participants from group one thought that he may participate in sports, and all who said so felt he may possibly play basketball. This is in support of Beigel’s research (1954), (as cited in Pierce, 1996) detailing certain attributions to taller people, especially that of excelled athleticism.
Participants in group one had markedly different responses in regards to the short male in the picture. When asked to guess what this short male’s major may possibly be, two felt he was undecided. This is directly related to the research stating that shorter males are seen as considerably less advantaged success-wise in our society.(See Deck, 1968; Steckel, 1983, as cited in Hensley, 1998. Also: Voss, 1999.) Other speculative majors from group one included: Philosophy, English, and Computer Science. This would enable me to posit that taller males are in fact seen as successful business men, or are viewed as Criminal Justice majors, possibly going into law enforcement. Majors more in tune with the Arts are attributed to males of shorter stature; thus confirming societal attributions and preferences based on height.
Half of the participants in group one first noticed height of individual number two as well as half of the participants in group two. Two respondents from each condition guessed that individual number two may play soccer (if any sport at all,) while other possibly played sports mentioned in group one were golf, or track. Individuals tend to infer that basketball is for taller individuals while other such sports as golf or track may be implied to shorter statured individuals. These exact findings were also seen in regards to the short and tall females in the picture.
When participants had to speculate as to the major of individual number three in the picture (the tall female), those in group one posited her major to be either politics, business, Biology, or Chemistry. Conversely, for the short statured female (labeled number five), subjects in group one guessed nursing (three total). Other speculations included Psychology or Sociology. The same was applicable to group two. 
Seven out of eight participants in group one when asked what the very first thing they noticed of the taller female in the picture said height, and five out of six said the same in group two. This finding also supports my hypothesis as it did in regards to first impressions with the males in the pictures. It shows that we first process another individual’s height, and then form opinions of the person accordingly. In the reverse, for the shortest female (number five), four out of five participants from group two noticed height foremost, while three out of eight said height in group one. This would lead to the inference that we may attend more to taller females’ height, for the societal preference is for the notion of the “male taller norm,” thus being the preference for the female to be shorter. (See Martel and Biller, 1987, as cited in Voss, 1999.)
Limitations of the study
My study provides good support for the notion that taller is perceived more advantageously in our society with regards to gender. Nevertheless, it possesses limitations which must be recognized. First, group two consisted of volunteers of older age versus group one. Group one consisted of all underclassmen, ages ranging from 18-20. Age may be a possible confounding variable in regards to the norms adopted. Also, gender was not controlled for in group two as was in group one. Group one contained an equal number of males to females, while group two was mostly all females (four out of six in the group.) We have already shown that there are significant differences with respect to preferential heights and attributions. 
Sample size may be somewhat problematic in this design, thus making it hard to generalize to the population as a whole. It was rather hard to attain a large sample.
Another limitation may be the size of the college. Many people recognize and or know one another. The individuals in the picture which participants viewed and answered questions based upon, are students at this institution. If a subject knows the people they are answering questions on, they may answer according to what they know of the individual, or answer in a certain way as so to protect their own sense of anonymity.
In the experimental condition, subjects were not asked to take their shoes off while being measured due to the fact that the experimenter was speculative as to whether or not participants interested in keeping in synch with desired heights may leave or take shoes off on their own whim to maintain this desired height. All participants did in fact, leave their shoes on. 
Another possible limitation to this study, was that participants were asked within hearing range of their peers what their height was. Biases may be created if they felt at anytime that they were to convey a certain image due to desired height (that is, short or tall), and thus may have influenced their responses.
Another conceivable limitation is indicated by responses to the Suspicion Index administered last. Of both groups combined, eleven participants felt that the study was really in fact, examining another variable, and the remaining five felt it was really looking at relationships between physical characteristics and job interviews.
Lastly, another possible confound to this study was the fact that group two was not told that the experiment was about physical characteristics and how they influence job interviews to distract from original hypotheses as group one was. This may have influenced responses between each condition.

Suggestions For Further Research
Much of the literature examined for this study was examining height, however, in regards to males. Much is left in question with respect to perceived levels of economic success and notions of such personality traits as athleticism or need to dominate with females of tall as well as short stature.
Another aspect which I feel would have provoked ideas of attributes, and personality traits of individuals in the pictures would have been to ask such questions geared more toward interpersonal attraction similar to the study done by Martel and Biller (1987), (as cited in Voss, 1999.)
I think it would also be valuable to expand on the research of Wilson (1968), (as cited in Voss, 1999) with the ascribed status. You will remember in this study it was found that as an individual’s ascribed status increases with esteem, so do estimates of height. This would be valuable to look at ascribed statuses/esteem with college students but in regards to their peers versus someone in a position of authority, and who is older.
Eagly et. al., 1991, (as cited in Lindeman, 1999), suggests that height is less important with regard to formed impressions of individuals when seen by their friends, family members, co-workers, and even acquaintances versus in the presence of strangers. Without question, height is an internalized part of the self schema which may mold and fuel personality. It is applicable to our everyday interactions with one another, the way we are perceived directs our success and perceived status. When asked “How the weather is up there?” for tall individuals, it may be a very different climate than for those down below.

 
 

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