Short shrift: A new Oxford study confirms prejudices about the vertically challenged in a less-than-scientific way


Click to follow
The Independent Online

Like lots of academic research, the new Oxford University study into us short-arses (I qualify, I believe) says nothing terribly new. Supposed "Short Man Syndrome" has been around for as long as us short blokes have taken our tiny strides across God's earth.

The Oxford academics' findings are variations on an old theme. They say shorties are supposed to suffer from heightened levels of mistrust, fear and paranoia. It's also been argued they/we are more jealous about spouses. "Height-reduced" (reduced?) participants in the study were apparently more likely to think that someone in a Tube train carriage was deliberately staring or thinking badly about them.

The truth is that shorter men have had to cope not with being short, as such, but with being accused of suffering from this syndrome. It is that that makes us "chippy", if anything: an important distinction.

So, wearisomely, let us trudge through the arguments. First, that Napoleon, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Attila the Hun, Richard Hammond and other monsters of history have been vertically challenged. Well, yes and no. People were generally shorter in the olden days, and plenty of unpleasant dictators have been big fellas; Idi Amin springs to mind; Saddam Hussein was a bit over 6ft, as was Osama bin Laden and Gaddafi; Kim Il Sung looked big by Korean norms. As it happens, Winston Churchill was the same height as Hitler. I can't see the "short man syndrome" correlation myself, and whatever moulded these men I doubt it was feelings of inadequacy on any physical count (Hitler's monorchism maybe excepted).

Speaking for myself, I have no consciousness of height. Five and half feet seems about right, placing me midway between Ahmadinejad and Bin Laden. It has never bothered me, and I have nothing against tall folk, of either gender as it happens. Why would I? It makes no logical sense. As for romance, height isn't everything, you know. A woman is more likely to go for a brilliant, witty, gifted, shortish, good-looking chap than some ugly lummock. Dudley Moore wasn't known as the "sex thimble" for nothing. I'll leave it there.

In contrast to my opinions, the Oxford research is a rigorously controlled study. Or is it? What, in fact, we discover is that the "experiment" took place in "virtual reality", not in a real-life Tube train. As someone who has to travel on one of these each day, I usually find that there are other things on my mind as I crush into the carriage. More appositely, the feelings stated by the participants were not about their own height, which is real, but how they felt when their seat was raised or lowered – an absurdly artificial method of enquiry. Hence the "lowering" of height, something not normally seen in the real world.

"For people whose lives are affected by paranoid thinking, this study provides useful insights on the role of height and how this can influence a person's sense of mistrust," according to the study. Well, the only thing I mistrust is pseudo-scientific research such as this, and the only paranoia I feel is that people believe it. It may feed a certain amount of real prejudice, such as the idea that party leaders have to be tall – as the current crop are, excepting Nigel Farage, who is no giant.

I would prefer to see a study of "Tall Man Syndrome", to discover whether those over, say, 6ft are predisposed to be arrogant, bossy and perhaps a bit too relaxed about their position in life. Or maybe, as I crane my neck to catch a glimpse of these tall poppies, I'm just being insecure.