Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Big Man

  • Gert Stulp
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_3524-1



“Big Man” is used to signify both an important individual as well as one large in size.


The phrase “Big Man” is used to signify both an important individual as well as one large in size, both historically and cross-culturally (Ellis 1992; Murray and Schmitz 2011; Sahlins 1963). Contemporary English language is also riddled with phrases that highlight an association between size and status (or the lack of it) – “a man of stature,” “standing tall,” “he was belittled” – and the phrase “high status” itself incorporates a vertical dimension. This conflation of size and status across many different language groups and cultures has a rather straightforward explanation: On average, those in position of power or high in status tend to be taller and bigger than those who are not. Positive associations between size and status have been observed in all kinds of cultural groupings, from hunter-gatherer groups to agricultural...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Blaker, N. M., & Van Vugt, M. (2014). The status-size hypothesis: How cues of physical size and social status influence each other. In J. T. Cheng, J. L. Tracy, & C. Anderson (Eds.), The psychology of social status (pp. 119–137). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  2. Ellis, B. J. (1992). The evolution of sexual attraction: Evaluative mechanisms in women. In J. Barkow, L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.), The adapted mind (pp. 267–288). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Ellis, L. (1994). The high and the mighty among men and beast: How universal is the relationship between height (or body size) and social status. In L. Ellis (Ed.), Social stratification and socioeconomic inequality. Reproductive and interpersonal aspects of dominance and status (Vol. 2, pp. 93–111). Westport: Praeger.Google Scholar
  4. Murray, G. R., & David Schmitz, J. (2011). Caveman politics: Evolutionary leadership preferences and physical stature. Social Science Quarterly, 92(5), 1215–1235. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6237.2011.00815.x.Google Scholar
  5. Sahlins, M. D. (1963). Poor man, rich man, big-man, chief: Political types in Melanesia and Polynesia. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 5(3), 285–303. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Silventoinen, K., Posthuma, D., van Beijsterveldt, T., Bartels, M., & Boomsma, D. I. (2006). Genetic contributions to the association between height and intelligence: Evidence from Dutch twin data from childhood to middle age. Genes, Brain, and Behavior, 5(8), 585–595. doi:10.1111/j.1601-183X.2006.00208.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Stulp, G., & Barrett, L. (2016). Evolutionary perspectives on human height variation. Biological Reviews, 91(1), 206–234. doi:10.1111/brv.12165.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Stulp, G., Buunk, A. P., Verhulst, S., & Pollet, T. V. (2012). High and mighty: Height increases authority in professional refereeing. Evolutionary Psychology, 10(3), 588–601.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Stulp, G., Buunk, A. P., Verhulst, S., & Pollet, T. V. (2013). Tall claims? Sense and nonsense about the importance of height of US presidents. The Leadership Quarterly, 24(1), 159–171. doi:10.1016/j.leaqua.2012.09.002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Stulp, G., Buunk, A. P., Verhulst, S., & Pollet, T. V. (2015). Human height is positively related to interpersonal dominance in dyadic interactions. PLoS One, 10(2), 1–18. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0117860.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands