Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Far Afield

We're really going off the grid today.

I was driving home this morning after playing tennis with Eli 12.10, and I have no why idea why, but the phrase "short man syndrome" popped into my head.

If you're not familiar with this, here's a brief description from the almost always somewhat useful Wikipedia:
Napoleon complex, or "short man syndrome", is a pejorative slang term describing a type of psychological phenomenon which is said to exist in people, usually men, of short stature. It is characterized by overly-aggressive or domineering social behaviour, and carries the implication that such behaviour is compensatory for the subjects' stature. The term is also used more generally to describe people who are driven by a perceived handicap to overcompensate in other aspects of their lives. Other names for the term include Napoleon syndrome and Short Man syndrome.

I've known a fair number of people like this, and they were always in positions of authority. Most of them had a barrel chest, oddly enough.

Here's the thing, though: I think I'm practicing selective memory here, because while I have had experiences with several people fitting this description, I've also had many more experiences with people of shorter stature that were absolutely not like this at all. However, for some reason, the utterly aggressive, loud people stick in my mind more memorably.

So I think there are several interesting layers here, potentially:
1. My memory is selective.
2. The stereotype produces greater attention to this personality type than it would otherwise. When tall people are aggressive, there's no word for that. Tall people have the phrase "gentle giant" to describe non-aggressive behavior, but no equivalent phrase for being extremely aggressive (at least, I can't think of one).
3. This is actually a thing.

If you are a reader of shorter stature (I don't know exactly that the cutoff point is for something like that, but it's your perception that matters more, not mine), I would be extremely interested in hearing your perspective on this. If you behave in a necessarily aggressive manner in certain situations, do you get tagged with this label, and does it affect your behavior? I would also be particularly interested in hearing from non-U.S. readers whether this notion exists in their country as well.

Before all of you send me this link, here's a story from earlier in the year: Short man syndrome really does exist, Oxford University finds:
Short man syndrome really does exist, Oxford University academics have found, after a study showed feeling smaller makes people paranoid, distrustful and scared of others.

Scientists used virtual reality technology to reduce the height of volunteers travelling on a computer-simulated Tube train by 10in (25cm).

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.

I don't think that's conclusive, by any means, but I think their methodology is interesting.

Anyway, this seems like an unorthodox but solid topic for discussion.

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