The Loh Down On Science

A researcher experiments with how height influences self-esteem

When it comes to self-esteem, are you coming up short?  Literally?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Meet psychologist Daniel Freeman from the University of Oxford.  He says taller people are considered more powerful and successful in our culture.  And, sadly, his latest study finds that if you feel short, you’re more likely to feel inferior and paranoid.  

Freeman had sixty women take two virtual-reality subway rides.  One ride had the participants' avatars at each woman's normal height.  During the other ride, the researchers reduced the avatars' height by about 10 inches … without telling them.  All other virtual riders were programmed to appear neutral and non-threatening. 

Most subjects didn’t consciously notice the height difference.  But during the ride where they were shorter?  More reported feeling incompetent, unlikeable, and inferior.  They also felt more mistrustful toward other riders than before they were short-changed.

Freeman says running the experiment the other way, making people feel taller, could boost their self-esteem.

Most of us women are interested in avatars that are 15 pounds slimmer than us, but I guess we’ll have to wait for the science.

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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