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C’mon, Big-up!

By on August 28, 2014

“Listen”, he said, “I’m the big man around here and I don’t want you to forget it!” He glared up at me from his five foot five inch stature. I have always looked up to my boss, but I couldn’t stand the way he looked down on me. I felt his attitude diminished my self-worth, and I felt small.

Our language is big on phrases and metaphors that associate height with power. And those in power go out of their way to look tall. When soldiers fought face to face they would wear tall hats to make themselves look taller. Popes and bishops still do. Judges sit on elevated chairs as do movie directors and monarchs. The winner gets to stand on the top of the podium, his less fortunate challengers below him.

This cognitive bias toward height probably begins in childhood, when we literally look up’ to our parents. But it continues for the rest of our lives, if you are tall you are more likely to be the CEO of a company than if you’re short. Height is power.

Researchers from Washington University tested the limits of our association of height with power. They cleverly split participants into paired ‘leaders’ and ‘followers’ on a random basis but in such a way that the leader felt more powerful than the follower. They then asked the volunteers various questions to test their perception of their own height, such as to estimating a pole’s height relative to oneself, to choosing an avatar in a computer game. In each case the ‘leaders’ judged themselves as taller than the followers.

Perhaps the most surprising result was the straight question “How tall are you?”, asked both before and after the experiment. The leaders’ self reported heights increased by one full inch on average!

Living Large: The powerful overestimate their own height

We have not found any research that shows the reverse association is true, but it makes a lot of sense. If you believe yourself to be taller, your feelings of power probably increase as well.

When we are doing NLP or hypnosis patterns involving spatial anchors, we often use height to increase positive states. For example in the Circle of Excellence patterns and New Behavior Generator the client is asked to ‘step into’ a new self. WE will often say, “See that new you slightly bigger than life size, in front of you and when you’re ready step into that!”

So simply asking your clients to be taller may make all the difference! Here’s a nice discussion of the research from Psyblog:

Experiment demonstrates how a powerful feeling feeds back into self-perception of height. Take these expressions: Hes the big man on this project. Its not hard to see the strong association here between size and power thats embedded in the way we talk about the relations between people. Via

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