'Short Man Syndrome' Is Real

Researchers use virtual reality to shrink subjects

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 29, 2014 8:55 AM CST

(Newser) – Scientists are lending some support to a persistent stereotype—or, as the Telegraph puts it, "Short-man syndrome really does exist." Researchers exposed subjects to two scenarios on a virtual-reality version of the London Underground. In one, subjects retained their normal heights; in the other, they were 10 inches shorter than their real-world height. The "shorter" scenario "led to a striking consequence: people felt inferior and this caused them to feel overly mistrustful," says Oxford University researcher Daniel Freeman.

The virtual passengers were set up to behave in a "strictly neutral fashion" in both scenarios, Freeman writes in the Guardian. But in the shorter simulation, subjects (who, "short-man syndrome" notwithstanding, were all women) reported feeling as though others in their train car were staring at the them or having negative thoughts about them—and in most cases, participants didn't realize their height had been lowered, the Telegraph reports. Freeman, who is 6' 2", acknowledges that "this all happened in a virtual reality simulation, but we know that people behave in VR as they do in real life." Still, he takes a positive message from the study: "Although we can't do much about our actual height, we can certainly learn to feel taller. And when it comes to boosting self-esteem, that may make all the difference." (Click to read about another study related to perception.)

Being shorter may lead to more paranoia, a study suggests.
Being shorter may lead to more paranoia, a study suggests.   (Shutterstock)
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