Professor in Evolutionary Psychology, Work and Organizational Psychology


Leadership and status

The Napoleon Complex: When shorter men take more

Knapen, J. E., Blaker, N. M., & Van Vugt, M. (2018). The Napoleon complex: When shorter men take more. Psychological Science, 1-11. DOI: 10.1177/0956797618760196



Inspired by an evolutionary psychological perspective on the Napoleon complex, we hypothesize 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) versus a game in which the opponent also has some power (Ultimatum). 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.

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