Short people got no reason to live, study (kinda) says

An Oxford University research group uses virtual reality to diminish people in size. The results are painful.

Yes, his girlfriend is 6'9". BarcroftTv/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Put yourself in the shoes of the short.

Far too often, they're forced the crane their necks to talk or merely look someone in the eye. Far too often, they move in for a hug, and instead of enjoying the nape of a neck all they get is the cushion of a belly.

Some very fine British researchers feared that those on the smaller side might suffer a corresponding sense of self-worth simply because of their size. So they concocted an experiment at Oxford University to test the long and the short of it.

What they found was depressing. As Professor Daniel Freeman describes in the Guardian: "Our hunch was that the experience (of being small) would cause people to view themselves more negatively, reducing their sense of status and self-esteem, and triggering a sense of vulnerability."

In collaboration with computer scientists, the researchers used virtual reality to send 60 participants on simulated subway rides. They took the journey twice -- once at a tall height and once 10" shorter. Freeman concluded:

The results were dramatic: when they felt smaller, the participants reported increased feelings of inferiority, weakness, and incompetence. And this explained why they were also more likely to experience paranoid thoughts: for example, that someone in the carriage was being hostile or trying to upset them by staring.

As with all research, one's nose fears that the researchers were finding what they'd hoped they'd find. They insist, though, that the participants weren't told their virtual height had been reduced, and that only a few noticed.

Freeman's interpretation is quite chilling: "Paranoia is rooted in a sense of inferiority. In situations that make us feel especially small and unconfident our sense of vulnerability can increase, making it more likely that we'll overestimate the danger facing us from other people."

One possible suggestion from this research is that a way of combating paranoia is to make people feel taller than they really are.

This is something in which the entertainment industry must be well practiced. Watching the Grammys last Sunday, it was noticeable how many of the most famous stars were quite tiny. Similarly, when you encounter the likes of Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Cruise, you aren't exactly in the Land of Giants.

What's curious in this study is that all of the participants were women. (The researchers said this was to eliminate any sex bias with respect to height.) All of the women, according to Freeman, "like 50 percent of all individuals, had recently experienced a mistrustful thought, but had no history of severe mental illness."

I'm surprised that 100 percent of all individuals haven't recently experienced a mistrustful thought -- and not just because of Edward Snowden.

Freeman insists that people behave in virtual reality scenarios exactly as they would in real life. I wonder if that is true.

Still, if we are to believe Randy Newman, short people "got little hands, little eyes, they walk around tellin' great big lies."

Perhaps the happiest short people tell themselves great big lies about their height in order to power their way to becoming president of France or office librarian in Manhattan.

As Newman's brilliant song explains: "Short people are just the same as you and I."

We all have to fool ourselves somehow.

 

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