Every waking hour we make conscious and unconscious evaluations of the world around us. When you look outside your window in the morning or check the weather report on your smart phone, you make a judgment as to whether today is going to be a good or bad day.
The same conceptual thinking applies to our social lives. When someone claims to never judge people, it’s a nice sentiment, but it’s psychologically incorrect. We determine friends, lovers, enemies and acquaintances by interacting in the social environment. Thus, we judge regularly.
Height, Face and Social Role
A University of Toronto study showed in December that we go a step further when we look at those of relative height and age.
The study found that humans organize height as a marker for social dominance. In other words, the taller you are perceived, the greater your role in society.
Additionally, head researchers Caitlin M. Burton and Nicholas O. Rule found that this height perception is also coupled with facial maturity.
Facial maturity is the social perception of a person in terms of personality warmth and social power. The most commonly referenced example in psychology is the baby-facial perception. This is a person who possesses a young, round face similar to an infant or toddler.
Three main findings come from this study:
- People are very accurate at judging height by simply looking at a face – more specifically a chin
- People typically infer physical height and social importance as one in the same
- We reference our experiences of the height-importance relationship to construct our perception of others
Significant research exists showing that during times of clear and present danger, we tend to elect or place our trust in those with high facial maturity and height. September 11, 2001, was no exception to the rule as the most commonly placed generals in command of military forces were those of perceived facial maturity, physical and social height. One need only look at former US Central Commander General Tommy Franks who was the chosen leader for the initial military operations against Al Qaeda.
Even more vividly would be the physical differences in Presidents George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Both the first Bush and Obama possess height and facial maturity on a perceptual level while George W. Bush displays the more baby-faced features.
This perception of the social difference between the two Bush presidents was exploited during the latter president’s era as he was accused of fighting the war his father never finished, according to an ABC News article.
Looking beyond Height
There are still questions linked to this research: Is there a connection to the height-facial maturity phenomenon and gender inequality? Is this perception innate, environmental or social? Does it have a net positive or negative effect on human well-being?
Further research is underway to explore the nature and roots of our social construction of reality.