Why do tall people look so tall?

I’m 6’1" tall so a little above average for the American male. My friend is 6’9" and therefore way above average in height. I’d guess he’s in the upper .1% but I’m too lazy to look it up. When I look up to him, it feels like he’s towering over me but in reality, he’s only 8" taller than me which is less than the length of my handspan. When I look at my hand, I think, “That can’t be right. He’s much taller than that.” But I know that it really is only 8".

How does this happen? Is it some sort of optical illusion or do I just not perceive how tall I actually am?

You see from the perespective of your eyes, which are about 4" lower than the top of your head (or more, depending on your hair). Add that to the 8" you mentioned, and you get 12". Perhaps that explains it a bit.
FWIW: I am 6’ 4" and do not notice what you claim, but I know few people who are 6’ 11" (11: Your friend’s 8" and the 3" that separate us).

Largely it’s because you are taller than most people and not used to looking up at others. Their difference in height relative to others colors your perception. I’m about 6’ even (or was before age compressed all my joints) and people up to around 6’4" seem only a little taller than I am while above that height people appear to be giants because I have to tilt my head back to see their faces close up.

Im 6", and i always feel people who are 6,4 are giants. But perhaps that also go with greater body mass? If you are propotionally buildt at 6,4 or taller, you might seem even larger and taller than inches should indicate? My friend is 6,5 and a body builder, very muscular - his arms are thick as my legs. He certainly seems like a giant compared to me (im of regular build) even height wise.

BUT, even people who are 6,1" seems tall to me (as i said im 6") but not gigantic, only very noticably so. I live in Norway which is not short of tall peopled (pun intended :slight_smile: )

So i share the OPs sentiments about the matter!

ETA - Also girls seem very very small to me, even if they are only a few inches lower than me - probably because of often a slighter frame, although high heels can wreck havoc on that perception, my ex gf was 6" and with high heels towered above me :slight_smile:

I think it’s really mostly what you’re used to.

I mean, I don’t usually think of a 5’2" woman as being anything other than a short woman. Not even particularly short even.

But a 5’2" grown man? I’m usually surprised when I see a grown man under about 5’6", and 5’2" would stand out quite a bit.

Same thing with tall people- a 6’2" man doesn’t even get a second look, but a 6’2" woman is usually a standout.

Anyone over about 6’4" is usually someone I perceive as unambiguously tall, and I’m 6’1". I think that’s the “look up” threshold for me.


Well, he’d look good next to an 18" model of Stonehenge.

Oddly, I don’t think of short people as particularly short. I’m 13" taller than my wife and I don’t feel like I’m looking down on her.

I’m 6’3" and don’t normally have to look up to people. So I definitely notice people that are 6’5" and above.

In his “Why Things Are” column in the Washington Post, Joel Achenbach once addressed a similar question:

Why do react so differently to seeing a 6’10" man than we do to seeing a 210 pound man? Both are about the same percentage above the average.

The conclusion he came to was that we aren’t reacting to the magnitude of the differences, but to the rarity of someone that tall (vice someone of that weight, which is much more common). I thought it made sense.

I’m almost 6’ 2"

I notice taller people with elongated dorsal trunks and regular legs. Their hips are at my height but I’m looking up at their heads. That situation makes them seem really tall.

That’s better than a crotch view of some long legged dude. LOL

It is interesting that some people have long trunks and others have long legs.

Height is seen in only one dimension, weight manifests in three dimensions.

We humans seem to be sensitive to even small differences in the appearance of other humans.

Gymnast Simone Biles is 4’8" (142 cm) which is only 6 inches (15 cm) shorter than the average American woman. Put another way, she is 90 percent the height of an average woman. But our impression on seeing her is that she is very short.

Contrary to many in this thread, I don’t think 8 inches is anywhere near “only” when it comes to height differences. That’s a full head height of difference between two people. It would stand out like a sore thumb in a photo etc.

I think that’s exactly it. We’re used to a height range that we perceive as normal, and anything that’s outside is perceived as abnormal, even if the difference to the upper or lower bound of the range is small in both absolute terms and relative to the values of these bounds.

That’s my guess. I’m a fraction shy of 5’2". Almost every adult these days is taller than I am, and lots of people are 8" taller than I am. I don’t feel like they’re towering over me; I’m used to having to look up in order to see people’s faces. I don’t particularly notice how much taller than me they are. What I notice is the rare occasion when an adult is significantly shorter than I am.

More like 8" shorter, these days. Average height for an American woman currently is more like 5’4"; and is probably brought down by older women, who are more likely to be shorter. Average heights have gone up (for men also.)

But what is the frequency of a 4’8” adult woman in the general population? I assume height is on a bell curve. It’s the combination of height and rarity of that height that we notice.

ETA: I think I’m saying the same as @Schnitte , just phrased differently.

We look tall because we’re looking down at you. (Physically, not judgementally)
And it may be the freakishly long arms and legs. If my arms were actually in proportion to my height I wouldn’t be able to reach over the fridge into that little cupboard and get the blender out with no problems.

There are actual inches differences, but it’s lots of optical illusion as well.

Either he got his numbers wrong, or he wrote that a very long time ago. According to an online weight percentile calculator, based on CDC data from 2015-16, an American man weighting 210 lb is only at about the 67th percentile (meaning a third of men weigh more). Meanwhile according to the height percentile calculator based on the same dataset, the 99th percentile of height among American men is only 6’ 3.6" (so only a fraction of one percent of men are tall as 6’ 10").

The 1st percentile for American women is 4’ 8.9", so taking the data at face value, somewhat less than 1 percent of American women are shorter than Biles. However, I’m not sure whether the CDC analysis measured people barefoot or wearing shoes.

I think that’s about average.