Feeling smaller makes people feel paranoid, mistrustful and more likely to think that people are staring or talking about them, a study by Oxford University finds, the UK Daily Telegraph reports today.
The experience of being shorter increased reports of negative feelings, such as being incompetent, dislikeable or inferior. It also heightened levels of mistrust, fear and paranoia. Height-reduced participants were more likely to think someone else in the virtual train carriage was deliberately staring, thinking badly about them, or trying to cause distress.
Professor Daniel Freeman, who led the Medical Research Council-funded study, said: “Being tall is associated with greater career and relationship success.
“Height is taken to convey authority, and we feel taller when we feel more powerful. It is little wonder then that men and women tend to over-report their height.
“In this study we reduced people’s height, which led to a striking consequence: people felt inferior and this caused them to feel overly mistrustful. This all happened in a virtual reality simulation, but we know that people behave in VR as they do in real life.
“It provides a key insight into paranoia, showing that people’s excessive mistrust of others directly builds upon their own negative feelings about themselves.
“The important treatment implication for severe paranoia that we can take from this study is that if we help people to feel more self-confident then they will be less mistrustful.”
Professor Hugh Perry, who chairs the MRC Neurosciences and Mental Health Board, said: “For people whose lives are affected by paranoid thinking, this study provides useful insights on the role of height and how this can influence a person’s sense of mistrust.”