Small Man Syndrome - Myth or Fact?

I looked for a Cecil column first.
It’s fascinating how much difference 5 or 6 inches can make in a males life.

The general view is, height challenged guys compensate by being more aggressive and quick tempered. A common example is James Cagney (5’ 6") or Humphrey Bogart (5’ 8") according to imdb.

This is a common Trope in literature and film. I’ve observed it in real life friends. Certainly, smaller children get picked on and bullied. A lot of them learn to fight very early. A good friend of mine was sensitive about his height. He always seemed to obsess about it.

A few other social myths…
A lot of women won’t date men shorter than them.

There’s also a unfounded perception that short guys have short penis.

Has there been research on this phenomenon? For example are divorce rates higher for shorter men? Criminal prosecutions?

Audie Murphy was 5’ 5" and WWII’s most decorated war hero. Among his 27 US decorations was the Medal of Honor, the US’s highest award for military conduct “above and beyond the call of duty,” plus 5 decorations awarded by France and Belgium.

He obviously had nothing to prove. Yet, it’s been reported that he was very sensitive about his height. He wouldn’t appear on screen with female costars taller than him. They would dig a trench for the actress to stand in.


Can’t tell you its scientifically established, but I can tell you I’ve seen more women suffer from “short man syndrome” than men.

I expect its for the same reason; they are in a position of power and want to be taken seriously. This could lead to being sensitive to percieved slights where their abilities may be questioned.

This is all anecdotal of course…take it as you will…I won’t be aggressive or quick tempered about it.

As young men, shorter men often feel they have something to prove. And sometimes it plays out as you’ve described. They often excel at athletics for instance, as well.

As adults, shorter men often are similar to bald men. Taller, fully haired men stand at the bar wondering why or how that short guy or that bald guy is getting all the lady attention. It’s not about short or bald, really though. It’s about maturity. Bald men and short men share not being able to change this aspect of themselves, coming to acceptance and, as a result, maturity before many of their peers. Women find the kind of self awareness that maturity brings attractive, especially at a time when the other young men are still all puffing bravado.

Just my opinion, of course. My man is 5’4" and, in character, is a giant of a man. But then I’ve never been ‘heightist’ in my tastes, as it were.

Obviously, this cannot be true. Most men, short, tall, fat or thin, do not “excel” at athletics. To excel is to be better than most. By definition, most of any large group of men will either be around, or below, average in any given endeavour.

And the OP’s asking if it’s myth or fact. Do you have **evidence **short men are likelier to be good at sports than tall men? If so, they seem amazingly under-represented in the elite levels of most sports, except for jockeys. I find your claim especially curious, as I’m a baseball fan, and baseball would seem to offer lots of opportunity to the legions of top notch short athletes - being short would be advantageous to baseball players in a lot of ways. Smaller strike zone, lower center of gravity for making turns on the bases. And yet short major leaguers are fairly unusual; off the top of my head I can think of just a handful of examples.

Again, I must ask: where’s your evidence? It sounds like McFreudian guesswork to me.

Fixed it for you.

Probably no way to corroborate this, but my observation is that a lot of women - especially taller women - are okay with it as long as the man is noticeably shorter.

Maybe that maturity issue elbows is talking about has some basis, in that a 5’4" guy may be more secure with a 5’11" woman than a 5’10" guy who never had to worry about his height at all.

Why do I give a shit? My grandfather, who was unusually free of machismo for his day, married a woman who was his exact height - 5’11". (Sadly, she became bedridden and died young, so we have no pictures of them together.)

Shorter men often attempt sports at the high school and college levels. The movie Rudy is an example. That movie was based on Rudy Ruettiger who was 5’ 6" and wanted to play football for the University of Notre Dame. I do agree, that height makes a difference in sports. Shorter guys have to work twice as hard.

The shorter guy as an aggressive fighter trope is evident in the Henery Hawk Looney Tunes cartoons.

There’s bound to be some serious studies on how shortness effects men.

**toofs **, it’s against the rules to modify another poster’s quote inside the quote tags. Please don’t do it again. No warning issued.

General Questions Moderator

I think it’s simply confirmation bias. For one thing, self-image isn’t rational or proportional: I suspect guys who are 5’10" are as likely to perceive themselves as “short” and “having something to prove” as guys who are 5’5", because if you are the sort of person who compares yourself unfavorably to others, you will find a way to compare yourself unfavorably to others.

I recall a study some years ago that showed women pictures of men, with the pictures manipulated to change their apparent height. The women were asked their opinion of male height, and asked to write a small story based on their impression of each man from his image. The women tended to write stories that were positive for tall, and negative for short about the man in question according to his apparent height regardless of their stated attitude towards height in men. Which to me implies that the women were either lying to appear “more enlightened”, or that the height prejudice is so hard wired/deeply ingrained that their subconscious warps their judgement against their conscious beliefs. So, there might very well reject a date with a short man without even realizing that’s why they are doing it.

Searching the web, I found this article specifically on this topic: Suite 101 - How-tos, Inspiration and Other Ideas to Try
The conclusion seems to be that smaller people feel jealous more. They don’t seem to address violence as much… they seem to simultaneously say that smaller people are more aggressive, because of bullying that made them passive. There are a couple of scientific articles referenced that may make it more clear.

Another journal article shows that taller and bigger men (in India) were more physically aggressive than shorter men.

Here’s an abstract for a study of height related to income and career success, including social esteem: The effect of physical height on workplace success and income: preliminary test of a theoretical model - PubMed

And an abstract that shows that taller people evaluate their lives to be happier and more successful, with less pain and sadness. But they do report more stress, anger and worry. Life at the top: the benefits of height - PubMed

Hope some of those help.

I’m only about 5’5 or 5’6 and have been told that I can have a real temper sometimes. One of my ex-girlfriends even accused me of having “Small Man Syndrome” while we were going through the “bitterly-insult-each-other” portion of our break-up. I guess I do have a temper and can be very sensitive, but it has nothing to do with my height (or at least I don’t think it does). I usually have a good sense of humor when people mention my height and can just go along with it. I mean, shit, there’s nothing I can do about being short anyway. Might as well just deal with it.

IMHO “short man syndrome” or “Napoleon complex” is an illusion born of sloppy thinking. In many cases, again IMHO, the exact same behavior that brings accusations of “short man syndrome” would be described using words like “dominant,” “dynamic,” “masterful,” “alpha male,” “exhibiting leadership,” “go-getter,” “aggressive,” “powerful,” “imposing,” and other favorable-sounding terms IF the man in question were tall.

Tall man stands up for himself, he’s called “impressive” or “firm.” Short man does the same thing, even using the exact same words, he’s lucky to be called “feisty” or “scrappy;” otherwise he’s pissy, insecure, suffering from short-man syndrome, and so on.

It is bigotry. We are Scotsmen in my family and are pretty short. We have no history of violence and aggression. While that is anecdotal, but includes a large family it does not qualify as proof. I have met some small guys with chips on their shoulders. I have also met big people with chips on their shoulders. People are people.

I have always thought that this canard is probably due to confirmation bias amongst those taller men (a minority of them, I am sure) whose self-esteem is too much invested in their tallness. They are offended by the fact that shorter men do not automatically defer to them, just because they are tall, and this can lead them to be prejudiced against the short, and to promulgate this baseless stereotype.

I am fairly short myself, but I have never been particularly self conscious about it (although, Og knows, I am often self-conscious about other things), and I do not have a very assertive personality. Furthermore, I have never noticed that other short men have any tendency to be more (or less) assertive than the tall (nor, indeed, have I ever felt discriminated against because of my height, though I do find the stereotype raised by the OP mildly offensive).

What! Scotsmen with no history of violence and aggression? :smiley:

[Oops, wrong stereotype. :o]

1st myth - Napoleon was not short. He was of average height 5’6 for the time. He was often seen with Imperial Guards (who would be taller than average) and English caricatures portrayed him as a small man, something that has stuck.

Real research on the Napoleon Syndrome issomewhat contradictory - a study in 2007 by the University of Central Lancashire indicates that short men take longer to lose their tempers than taller ones. Also, larger men may try to use their size to intimidate an opponent in a threat display before committing to a fight - this delay makes the shorter man appear to be the aggressor. Smaller men may exhibit more jealousy than taller men, however. Longitudinal studies have also found no correlation between size and behaviour.


I had a friend who was 6’1" he was constantly trying to show that he was as good as or better than everyone else. Even a tall guy can have short man syndrome.

Thanks. There’s some good information here. :slight_smile: