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Science Explains Why Small Men Are So Aggressive

Short in stature and short on patience? There’s a reason for that.

Do you know an angry short person who has a bit of a complex about their height? Even if you don’t, you’re probably aware of the stereotype of the unlucky short bald guy with big anger problems – like a Dr Evil type. 

It might surprise you to learn that there is some legitimate science behind this phenomenon! Known as “small man syndrome”, the controversial theory proposes that short men tend to be more aggressive on average. Don’t believe us? Read on to learn more.

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What Is “Little Man Syndrome”?

The definition of this inferiority complex is simple: it’s overcompensating for one’s lack of height by being aggressive or domineering in social situations. Psychology also refers to this as “Napoleon Syndrome” (which isn’t accurate for reasons we’ll get into later), a derogatory social stereotype reinforced by society’s preference for tall men.

An old man on a child's red go-kart
(Credit: Getty)

Even if this is the first time that you’ve heard of the term, you’re likely familiar with the characteristics and symptoms: aggressive behaviour, mild to an extreme aversion to situations that involve their height, and taking any opportunity possible to prove their worth beyond their physical stature. While this is a stock figure we make fun of all the time, science has actually come up with a reason why this happens.

What Does Napoleon Have To Do With All This?

A random tidbit that you might have heard about is that Napoleon Bonaparte was short. That’s actually not true: Napoleon was 5’7, which is above average height for a man of that time. The misinformation primarily came from British propaganda keen on ridiculing him in the eyes of the public.

A black and white portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte
(Credit: Getty)

Given that the British influenced almost 3/4th of the entire world, this attitude soon mixed into our collective culture to point fingers and make fun of Napoleon.

What Does Science Have To Say?

The earliest scientific study about this syndrome didn’t have promising results. In 2007, the University of Central Lancashire found that short men weren’t prone to losing their temper more than tall men – rather, the tall men were more likely to display aggressive behaviour. 

Two men in suits staring at each other
(Credit: Getty)

Another study published in the Association for Psychological Science found evidence that shorter men are more likely to exhibit symptoms of the Napoleon Complex when put into a position of power against a taller opponent. They tested this by having them play the Dictator Game, where the aim of the game is to fairly divide money between two participants. Researchers found that shorter men were more likely to keep all the money for themselves if they thought the other participant was taller than them.

But a 2018 study by the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam tackled this issue from an evolutionary standpoint and found that there might be a psychological, not social, reason short men have a tendency to become more aggressive. The male brain is hard-wired to be competitive in social encounters, so when another male is outclassed in physical attributes, the brain tries to compensate by adopting alternative methods for dominance.

Not All Short Men

If you want to look at male celebs insecure about their height (or have made a career out of it), look no further than Hollywood. Tom Cruise and Josh Hutcherson are short for leading men, and you can find stories about the interesting and funny ways that their directors filmed them to compensate for their lack of height.

On the other hand, stars like Danny DeVito, Tom Holland, and Kevin Hart have all owned up to their height disadvantages, proving that not all short men care about being taller than anyone else. While evolution and social convention play a role, these actors are some of the best examples we have of men that don’t really care – and look a lot cooler than their taller counterparts because of it.

Not A Big A Deal

While the “short man syndrome” might be a thing, there’s no reason to believe that all short men have a chip on their shoulder because of it. In fact, a small man comfortable in their own skin might as well be 6 foot 4!

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