Height and Age Influence Perception of Male Dominance

New research discovers a few key attributes make a male appear more dominant.

The perception of dominance influences social outcomes ranging from leadership positions, sexual activity, and theater or film casting selections.

The study, by scientists at the University of St. Andrews, shows that simple increases in a man’s height and age automatically makes them appear more dominant.

Investigators Carlota Batres, Daniel Re, and Professor David Perrett of the Perception Lab at the University’s School of Psychology & Neuroscience believe the research sheds light on why Hollywood directors might choose certain actors to play leading roles.

Study findings appear in the journal Perception.

Carlota and her team used computer graphic manipulations to make subtle alterations to images of men’s faces. Participants in the study were asked their opinions on the men, based on how tall, masculine, and old they appeared to be.

When the researchers made 25 year old men look eight cm taller, up to a decade older, or made their faces more masculine (by for example increasing the prominence of their eyebrows), the onlookers thought the men looked more dominant.

Maximum dominance was achieved by increasing perceived height and masculinity while maintaining a man’s age at around 35 years.

“Understanding what influences dominance perceptions is important since a dominant appearance in male faces is associated with a variety of social outcomes, ranging from high rank attainment of cadets in the military to high levels of sexual activity in teenage boys,” explains research leader Carlota Batres.

“Dominant people are also favored as leaders during times of intergroup conflict and are more successful leaders in the business world. Hence, understanding what it is that makes someone look dominant is important given its influence on a variety of social outcomes.”

Professor David Perrett, Head of the Perception Lab at the University of St. Andrews added, “Such perceptions may also follow reality: taller men being more formidable opponents and strength increasing with age until a man gets to his mid-thirties.”

The researchers say the study also provides some insight into casting choices made by film directors, since male leading roles are often played by actors who fit the dominance description in the study.

Channing Tatum (1.85 meters tall, 35 years old), for example, is often cast to play strong and dominant characters, from the interplanetary warrior Caine Wise in “Jupiter Ascending” to the experienced male dancer “Magic Mike.”

Source: Sage Publications/EurekAlert