The perceived benefits of height: Strength, dominance, social concern, and knowledge among Bolivian native Amazonians

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Abstract

Research in industrial countries suggests that, with no other knowledge about a person, positive traits are attributed to taller people and correspondingly, that taller people have slightly better socioeconomic status (SES). However, research in some non-industrialized contexts has shown no correlation or even negative correlations between height and socioeconomic outcomes. It remains unclear whether positive traits remain attributed to taller people in such contexts. To address this question, here we report the results of a study in a foraging-farming society of native Amazonians in Bolivia (Tsimane')-a group in which we have previously shown little association between height and socioeconomic outcomes. We showed 24 photographs of pairs of Tsimane' women, men, boys, and girls to 40 women and 40 men >16 years of age. We presented four behavioral scenarios to each participant and asked them to point to the person in the photograph with greater strength, dominance, social concern, or knowledge. The pairs in the photographs were of the same sex and age, but one person was shorter. Tsimane' women and men attributed greater strength, dominance, and knowledge to taller girls and boys, but they did not attribute most positive traits to taller adults, except for strength, and more social concern only when women assessed other women in the photographs. These results raise a puzzle: why would Tsimane' attribute positive traits to tall children, but not tall adults? We propose three potential explanations: adults' expectations about the more market integrated society in which their children will grow up, height as a signal of good child health, and children's greater variation in the traits assessed corresponding to maturational stages. © 2012 Undurraga et al.

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Undurraga, E. A., Zebrowitz, L., Eisenberg, D. T. A., Reyes-García, V., & Godoy, R. A. (2012). The perceived benefits of height: Strength, dominance, social concern, and knowledge among Bolivian native Amazonians. PLoS ONE, 7(5). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0035391

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