The Napoleon Complex: When Shorter Men Take More

Psychol Sci. 2018 Jul;29(7):1134-1144. doi: 10.1177/0956797618772822. Epub 2018 May 10.


Inspired by an evolutionary psychological perspective on the Napoleon complex, we hypothesized that shorter males are more likely to show indirect aggression in resource competitions with taller males. Three studies provide support for our interpretation of the Napoleon complex. Our pilot study shows that men (but not women) keep more resources for themselves when they feel small. When paired with a taller male opponent (Study 1), shorter men keep more resources to themselves in a game in which they have all the power (dictator game) versus a game in which the opponent also has some power (ultimatum game). Furthermore, shorter men are not more likely to show direct, physical aggression toward a taller opponent (Study 2). As predicted by the Napoleon complex, we conclude that (relatively) shorter men show greater behavioral flexibility in securing resources when presented with cues that they are physically less competitive. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

Keywords: Napoleon complex; behavioral flexibility; human height; indirect aggression; open data; status.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aggression / physiology*
  • Body Height / physiology*
  • Competitive Behavior / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Social Behavior*