People who are relatively short and those who wish to be taller tend to have more “Dark Triad” traits, according to new research published in Personality and Individual Differences. The findings suggest that short individuals may engage in antagonistic behaviors in an attempt to offset their height disadvantage.
The Dark Triad refers to a set of three related personality traits: psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. Psychopathy is characterized by a lack of empathy and remorse, impulsivity, and a disregard for social norms and rules. Narcissism is characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, entitlement, and a need for admiration. Machiavellianism refers to a tendency to be manipulative, cynical, and lacking in morality.
“One of the reasons these traits have become so popular to study is the contention that they might be adaptive — albeit socially undesirable — solutions to attaining status/mates/survival calibrated on both dispositional features like the ability to compete and the context one grew up in (especially) and one’s current circumstances (less so),” said study author Peter K. Jonason of the University of Padua and The Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw.
For their study, the researchers used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to recruit 367 adults from the United States. The participants completed the Dirty Dozen Dark Triad questionnaire, a standardized assessment of subclinical psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. The researchers also asked the participants to report their actual height and the extent to which they agreed with the statements “I wish I were taller” and “I am satisfied with my height.”
Both actual height and height satisfaction were negatively correlated to Dark Triad traits. In other words, shorter people and those who wished to be taller tended to exhibit more psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism.
“Shorter people, especially those who wish they were taller, are more characterized by traits that are likely to make them show-off, be confrontational, and interested in power,” said Jonason, the author of “Shining Light on the Dark Side of Personality..”
The negative correlation between height and narcissism was stronger among men. But levels of psychopathy and Machiavellianism were not moderated by participants’ sex. “We expected these relationships to be stronger in men given evolutionary and Freudian considerations but we found only scant evidence for differentiation of these correlations by sex,” Jonason said.
But why would shorter people tend to have more dark traits? The researchers said that “these relationships may be best understood from an evolutionary framework, suggesting that when people cannot be physically formidable, they may then be psychologically formidable instead.”
When individuals are physically smaller or weaker, they may use psychological tactics to compensate for this. For example, shorter men may demand respect, acquire resources, and impress romantic partners with their personality traits, while shorter women may use deception to appear more desirable or gain protection and resources. These psychological tactics may provide advantages in survival and mating, and may offset physical disadvantages.
As far as limitations, Jonason said “the most pertinent issue would be to better calibrate tests based on relative heights in one’s area. This would get a sense of the magnitude of the effect as it diverges from the local average. It is the local milieu more than national averages that will set people’s adaptive responses.”
The study, “The Napoleon complex, revisited: Those high on the Dark Triad traits are dissatisfied with their height and are short“, was authored by Monika A. Kozłowska, Daniel Talbot, and Peter K. Jonason.