Psychologists have discovered that powerful people tend to overestimate their own height.

While investigators are unsure as to why the association between height and power occurs, a series of investigations finds that the link between power and height is real.

“Maybe there’s a physical experience that goes along with being powerful,” said Jack A. Goncalo, Ph.D., of Cornell University, a co-author on the paper. “For people who are less powerful, maybe other people and objects loom larger, and for the powerful everything else just seems smaller.”

Prior research has shown that taller people are more likely to acquire power; taller people make more money, on average, and are more likely to be promoted.

In the current experiment, investigators discovered the converse is also true — that power also makes people feel taller.

In one experiment, subjects came to the lab in pairs. First they had their heights measured. Then they were given a leadership aptitude test and told that, based on their feedback, they would each be assigned to play the role of the manager or the employee.

Participants were given fake feedback, then randomly assigned a role. After that, each person filled out a questionnaire with personal information, including eye color and height.

Researchers discovered people who had been told they would be the manager — with complete control over the work process and power to evaluate the employee — said they were taller than the actual measurement.

Alternatively, subjects who had been told they would be the employee gave a height that was more or less the same as their real height. Other experiments found similar results—that people who feel powerful overestimate their height.

The results may also explain why diminutive leaders might still behave like people twice their height—they actually feel taller.

“Given that height is associated with power, raising your height may make you feel powerful,” Goncalo says—which helps explain the continuing popularity of high heels and offices on the top floor.

Source: Association for Psychological Science