Are all short men little Napoleons?
It's often said smaller men tend to be chippy and aggressive. But what's the scientific evidence?
Short-tempered: But Napoleon was 5ft 6in tall
Napoleon Bonaparte’s legacy is immense. He reformed the Continental legal system, ensured that Europe, and most of the world, drives on the right and, until his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo 200 years ago this month, was one of the greatest military leaders in history.
The French dictator also lent his name to something less impressive — the Napoleon Complex, the syndrome where pint-sized men overcompensate for their lack of stature with blustering self-importance, jealousy and aggression.
Stalin was said to suffer from it, as did Mussolini and Attila the Hun. Some critics say it helps explain the behaviour of 5ft 5in former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Last month, singer Art Garfunkel reignited the debate over the Napoleon Complex by accusing his erstwhile partner Paul Simon — all 5ft 3in of him — of being a sufferer. ‘I think you’re on to something,’ Garfunkel reflected, looking back on years of in-fighting and estrangement. ‘I would say so, yes.’
So is there really such a thing as a short man syndrome? And can height really influence our pesonality?
The Napoleon Complex was identified in 1926 by the Austrian psychoanalyst Alfred Adler, who also came up with the notion of the inferiority complex, where sufferers demonstrate a lack of self-worth.
In its classic form, personified by Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army (who is regularly taunted as a ‘Napoleon’ by Warden Hodges), short men overcompensate for their lack of height by being extra-assertive and chippy.
The name, actually, is a bit of a misnomer. Although Napoleon is assumed to have been short, he was 5ft 6in, around average for a man in the late 18th century. The confusion arose from portraits of the dictator standing alongside unusually tall guards.
The complex has divided psychologists for more than a century. Some say it describes a real phenomenon; others believe there is no evidence it exists.
What is beyond doubt, is that short men have every reason to be fed-up with their lot. Study after study shows that tall people are wealthier, more successful at work, healthier and even enjoy better love lives than their smaller counterparts.
A 2004 study by psychologist Timothy Judge found that tall people earn more. He calculated back then that every inch of height added $789 (£505) to someone’s annual salary every year so that, on average, a worker who was 6ft earned $5,525 (£3,535) more than someone who was 5ft 5in.
When author Malcolm Gladwell polled the management of half the top U.S. companies, he found that 58 per cent of chief executives were at least 6ft tall, compared to just 14 per cent of the population.
Since 1916 — the era when our politicians have appeared on cinema screens and TV — the taller U.S. presidential candidate has won 17 times; the shorter candidate just six. Other studies have shown tall men are more likely to find a long-term partner and taller teenagers have more dates.
Short people are more likely to become crooks, they’re more likely to develop heart disease, they tend to be more unhappy and they don’t live as long. No wonder vertically challenged people feel they are getting short shrift.
In its classic form the Napoleon Complex, personified by Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army (pictured), short men overcompensate for their lack of height by being extra-assertive and chippy
No one really knows why tall people — and particularly tall men — do so well in life. It may be partly to do with evolution. Tall men are seen by women as being healthier, fitter and stronger, looking all round the better catch.
Tall people may be more confident, safe in the knowledge they will never be overlooked. That confidence may translate into better exam results, career prospects and love lives.
But what evidence is there that these inequalities are matched by seething resentment and anger among short men? One study suggesting the short man complex is real came from Professor Abraham Buunk, of Holland’s University of Groningen.
He interviewed 100 men and 100 women in relationships and found that men around 5ft 4in tall were more likely to suffer from jealousy than those measuring 6ft 6in.
For women, the results were different: tall and short women both showed more signs of jealousy than women of average stature.
But other experiments have not found compelling evidence for a Napoleon Complex.
Psychologist Dr Glenn Wilson says: ‘For every nasty little Napoleon or Hitler, there’s an equally nasty Saddam Hussein or Colonel Gaddafi who is tall. It’s easy to think of case examples but scientific evidence is very limited.’
In 2007, researchers at the University of Central Lancashire found that tall men — not short ones — were quicker to lose their rag when provoked.
In an unusual — and slightly silly — study, men of different heights duelled with wooden sticks. In each fight, they were battling a stooge who was told to provoke a response by deliberately rapping their opponent across the knuckles.
Dr Mike Eslea, who carried out the study, showed it was the taller men who were more quick to fly off the handle. And when researchers at Southampton University compared the personality types of 48 short and 66 average height people in their late teens in 2003, they found no link between personality and height.
Critics of the theory say people are often too quick to link personality defects to height. If a 5ft 10in man is bossy or angry, no one links it to their size.
Yet when a 5ft 4in man displays the same characteristics, they are accused of overcompensating.
And there are plenty of shorter men who are easy-going and passive. Gandhi was just 5ft 3in.
There are plenty of shorter men who are easy-going and passive. Gandhi (pictured in 1940) was just 5ft 3in
If the evidence for Napoleon syndrome in men is weak, it’s virtually non-existent in women. Some studies have shown shorter women feel less confident — which helps explain why so many women feel the need to wear high heels to boost their self-esteem.
Oxford University academic Professor Daniel Freeman tested how height affects personality in 2013. He invited 60 women to take a simulated underground train journey while wearing virtual reality glasses.
The Tube trip was as realistic as possible — with noisy rumbling and swaying motion — and the carriage was populated by computer-generated people. The volunteers took two journeys — one at normal height and another with their viewpoint altered to replicate how the journey would look if they were about a head shorter.
‘It was clear that being lower made people feel less confident in themselves,’ says Prof Freeman. ‘There was an increase in feelings of inferiority. And, with this added sense of vulnerability, the participants felt more mistrustful of the people around them. This happened in a virtual-reality simulation but we know people behave in VR as they do in real life.’
The Napoleon Complex has divided psychologists for more than a century. Some say it describes a real phenomenon; others believe there is no evidence it exists
Yet revealing that a woman feels less confident when she’s shorter doesn’t mean that she also becomes more aggressive, pompous or chippy. Women are expected to be shorter in our society.
In 97 per cent of UK couples, the man is on average five or six inches taller.
Psychologist Dr David Lewis claims to have identified a ‘Tinker Bell Complex’, named after the feisty fairy in Peter Pan. Women who are petite are often infantilised — treated like children by men, or so the theory goes. As a result, they can develop a sense of rebellion and resentment that makes them more flamboyant and ambitious.
Candidates for the Tinker Bell Complex include Lady Gaga (5ft 1in), Barbara Windsor (4ft 10in) and Lulu (5ft 1in). Unlike the Napoleon Complex, it’s not seen as a negative trait but an asset that helps them succeed.
At the other end of the scale, tall women — like tall men — seem to do better at careers and earning money. But tall people don’t get it all their own way.
They may have the money and the relationships. But according to a University of Aberdeen study, they are also more likely to be bitten by midges.
Napoleon Bonaparte and Captain Mainwaring would be no doubt be delighted to hear it.
Men really ARE the weaker sex:
'Harmful DNA affects heart and brain health - sending them to an early grave'
They are known as the weaker sex, yet they regularly outlive the men in their lives.
Now, scientists think they know why.
They say that an accident to inheritance means that it is men, not women, who are the weaklings.
Geneticist Neil Gemmell says that mothers are cursing their sons by giving them defective DNA.
This DNA has subtle effects on everything from brain and heart health and muscle strength to fertility and so helps send men to an early grave.
The same DNA isn’t harmful to women, in fact it is ‘exquisitely adapted’ to their needs.
Scientist at the University of Ontago in New Zealand say men really are the weaker sex. Professor Neil Gemmell said defective DNA passed from mothers to their sons has subtle, but negative effects on their health, meaning they have shorter life expectancy
University of Otago researcher Neil Gemmell said: ‘I call it “mother’s curse”.
‘Men definitely are the weaker sex.’
Professor Gemmell’s theory, which will be more popular with one sex than the other, hinges around the DNA in mitochondria.
These are the the tiny ‘batteries’ that power our body’s cells and are especially bountiful in the heart, muscle, brain and other parts the body that use up a lot of energy.
Normally, both parents pass their genes to the next generation and any harmful mutations are eliminated over the generations because those who are carrying them have fewer children or die younger.
However, mitochondrial DNA is only passed on by daughters.
A woman passes it to her sons and her daughters – but only her daughters pass it on to the next generation.
As the DNA passes down the female line, any DNA that is harmful women is eliminated.
But DNA that is damaging to men remains – leaving men at a disadvantage, said the professor.
This means they may be inheriting DNA that is bad for their heart, brain, muscle health and energy levels – helping explaining why men, on average, live three or four years less than women.
I call it “mother’s curse”. Men definitely are the weaker sex
Geneticist, professor Neil Gemmell
Professor Gemmell said: ‘It is an unfortunate aspect of maternal inheritance that male offspring are effectively cursed or bestowed with sub-optimal mitochondria.
‘I think of males as being an evolutionary cul-de-sac with respect to mitochondrial DNA. So we get it, we don’t pass it on to our offspring and we just have to make the most of it.’
His theory, presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology’s annual conference in Lisbon, draws on a decade of research from around the world on flies, fish and numerous other animals.
This includes ‘striking’ studies which showed that certain types of mitochondrial DNA caused infertility and truncated lifespans in males but had ‘utterly no effect’ on females.
And studies on men have shown that those with a particular type of mitochondrial DNA have slower-swimming sperm.
The harmful mitochondrial DNA affects the brain, heart and muscle strength as well as fertility, Professor Gemmell said. He explained the DNA is not harmful to women, rather it's 'exquisitely adapted’ to their needs
Professor Gemmell, of the University of Otago, in New Zealand said: ‘It’s an irony, or a gross evolutionary injustice, I don’t know which, that male fertility is held to ransom by a female-inherited molecule.
‘In general mitochondrial DNA will be exquisitely adapted for it role in females, while its role in males will likely be less ideal, leading to fitness consequences for males.
‘Perhaps think of mitochondrial DNA being well-tailored for females, but less than flattering for males because it wasn't cut for them.’
However, men shouldn’t be too disheartened.
The professor said: ‘It’s not completely bad news for men.
‘The longevity gap is only two to five years. It’s not enormous and there are all sorts of other factors that contribute to our shorter lives, like the fact that men don’t go to the doctor and hide their problems.’
Indeed, recent research shows the longevity gap is closing – a fact blamed on the stressful lives of career women and the toll of drinking and smoking on health.