According to researchers from Washington University in St. Louis, powerful people tend to think they’re taller than they really are. The research is based on a series of experiments that asked participants to estimate their height after being guided through several scenarios. In one instance, participants were asked to recall a time they had power over someone else and then a time when someone else had power over them.
After telling each story, the participants were asked to estimate how tall they were in relation to a pole set 20 inches higher than their actual height. Researchers discovered that the estimates from the participants who related stories about being in a position of power were always higher on the pole than their actual height.
“Height is often used as a metaphor for power,” Michael M. Duguid, co-author of the study, said in a statement. “Powerful people ‘feel like the big man on campus,’ and people ‘look up to them.’ We find that the psychological experience of power may cause individuals to feel taller than objective measurement indicates they really are.”
Researchers also tested a version of this experiment that required participants to pick a computer game avatar after telling stories of when they were and were not in power, and found that the empowered volunteers consistently chose taller avatars.
A final experiment, in which participants were asked to alternately role-play as a manager and subordinate, produced the same findings: Those in power felt they were taller.