Larger than life: Humans' nonverbal status cues alter perceived size

Abigail A. Marsh, Henry H. Yu, Julia C. Schechter, R. J.R. Blair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Background: Social dominance and physical size are closely linked. Nonverbal dominance displays in many non-human species are known to increase the displayer's apparent size. Humans also employ a variety of nonverbal cues that increase apparent status, but it is not yet known whether these cues function via a similar mechanism: by increasing the displayer's apparent size. Methodology/Principal Finding: We generated stimuli in which actors displayed high status, neutral, or low status cues that were drawn from the findings of a recent meta-analysis. We then conducted four studies that indicated that nonverbal cues that increase apparent status do so by increasing the perceived size of the displayer. Experiment 1 demonstrated that nonverbal status cues affect perceivers' judgments of physical size. The results of Experiment 2 showed that altering simple perceptual cues can affect judgments of both size and perceived status. Experiment 3 used objective measurements to demonstrate that status cues change targets' apparent size in the two-dimensional plane visible to a perceiver, and Experiment 4 showed that changes in perceived size mediate changes in perceived status, and that the cue most associated with this phenomenon is postural openness. Conclusions/Significance: We conclude that nonverbal cues associated with social dominance also affect the perceived size of the displayer. This suggests that certain nonverbal dominance cues in humans may function as they do in other species: by creating the appearance of changes in physical size.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere5707
JournalPloS one
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 27 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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