Short man syndrome is not just a tall story
By Nic Fleming, Science Correspondent
Published: 12:01AM GMT 13 Mar 2008
Short men were found most jealous in the presence of powerful, tall potential rivals
It is said they are prone to bouts of aggression, showing off and keeping a close eye on their wives or girlfriends at parties.
Vertically challenged men may argue that the notion of a "short man syndrome" is an unfair, inaccurate stereotype. However, scientists have now proved small men do make more jealous husbands and lovers than their taller, more relaxed counterparts.
The findings could help explain why diminutive males from Napoleon Bonaparte and Benito Mussolini to Tom Cruise and Dudley Moore have on occasion been accused of overcompensating for a lack of physical stature.
Researchers found men around 5ft 4in tall were around 50 per cent more likely to fall foul of the green-eyed monster than those measuring 6ft 6in.
Tall and short women also showed more signs of jealousy than those of average height.
Prof Abraham Buunk, of the University of Groningen in Holland, said the findings on short man syndrome - also known as the Napoleon complex - make evolutionary sense, as tall men and medium-height women have greater success with the opposite sex.
Taller men have previously been shown to get more replies to lonely heart ads, have more physically attractive partners, have higher wages and are more likely to have children.
In the latest study, highlighted in this week's New Scientist magazine, researchers questioned 100 men and 100 women in relationships about their feelings of jealousy and how interested they believed their partners to be in other members of the opposite sex.
Among men they found a linear correlation, with 5ft 4in men being scored an average of 3.75 out of six on a jealousy scale, and the men around 6ft 6in getting 2.25. The results among women were more complex, with those of around average height (5ft 6in) scoring lowest for jealously, at around three out of six. The shortest women in the study, who measured around 5ft, scored five on the scale, while the tallest, at 6ft, got an average of four.
The researchers also examined the specific characteristics of rivals that would make them jealous.
Short men were, as expected, most jealous in the presence of powerful, tall, strong and rich potential rivals.
However, female participants of around average height were more vulnerable to jealousy than others when confronted, not with very beautiful women, but with socially or physically powerful rivals.
Prof Buunk said: "As women of average height tend to be more fertile and healthy they would be less jealous of women with features signalling fertility and health such as physical attractiveness, but more jealous of women possessing masculine features such as physical dominance and social status."
Throughout the animal kingdom, larger males are more likely to win fights, are more dominant and are more likely to reproduce.
A series of studies have shown taller men enjoy a range of advantages. In the 1940s, psychologists found tall salesmen were more successful than their shorter colleagues. University students asked to rate the qualities of men of varying heights said short men were less mature, less secure and less capable than tall men.