Body height as a social signal

  • Michael Hermanussen University of Kiel, Kiel
  • Christiane Scheffler Institute of Biochemistry and Biology, University of Potsdam, Potsdam
Keywords: child growth, social role, dominance, community effect on height, competitive growth, strategic growth adjustment


Body height has a signaling function among social mammals. Humans also perceive physical size as a signal and tend to associate stature and status. Taller men are perceived as more competent and authoritative. Studies in wild Kalahari male meerkats (Suricata suricatta) suggest that dominance itself can be a stimulus for growth allowing for competitive growth and strategic growth adjustments. Assuming that similar mechanisms on the control of growth are also relevant for humans, our understanding of the shortness of many Third World populations has to be revised. Short stature may no longer be exclusively understood as an expression of poverty, chronic malnutrition and poor health but as an expression of persistent feelings of inferiority and patronization in the face of the global spread and dominance of Western life and moral codes.


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