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Blog Post Of The Month – May 2009

In May, there were 48 blog posts (a big jump in comparison to 27 in March and 29 in April) covering PLoS ONE articles aggregated on Well, really 47 since one of them is ineligible due to conflict of interest. Reading all the posts is becoming a full-time job! Keep them coming!

I was somewhat surprised to see how few of those 48 posts were about Ida, considering how many posts about this fossil were written this month – I am assuming that some of the people were not sending their posts to (or trackbacks to the paper itself, where a healthy scientific debate is occurring in the comments).

Anyway, I was very happy with the last month’s crop of posts – pretty much every one of the 48 entries could have won. And the decision was really difficult. But after mulling over it for a while, and then sleeping over it, I finally decided – my Pick for Blog of the Month for May 2009 is….drumroll, please:

Christie Wilcox of Observations of a Nerd for the post Size does matter!

Christie’s post discusses a recent article Larger than Life: Humans’ Nonverbal Status Cues Alter Perceived Size by Marsh AA, Yu HH, Schechter JC and Blair RJR. Here is the abstract:


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.


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.

Christie writes:

What they found was that, unanimously across the board, people that looked taller were perceived as more dominant. Even the same actor in the exact same pose, with simply a change in the background to make him look shorter, looked less dominant. But even more amazingly, the status implied by the posture an actor took, whether sitting or standing, affected how tall they appeared to the participants. Actors in authoritative status poses were judged to be on average an inch taller and 5 lbs heavier than when they were in submissive ones, whether sitting or standing.

Part of the effect, the researchers found, is due to silhouettes. When we’re in certain poses, we look like we take up more space – literally. By analyzing the pixels in a 2d manner of different poses, the researchers found that we, in effect, are larger when we’re in dominant positions. As the authors explain, “Although the targets’ actual size did not vary across poses, in the sense that their actual height and weight were unchanged, the targets’ apparent size in the two-dimensional plane visible to a perceiver varied significantly.”

Congratulations both to Christie and to the authors of the article. I have notified the winners and their prizes are on the way. I hope you read Christie’s post and post a comment of your own, and then go to the article itself to read it and post comments, notes and ratings there as well. And don’t forget to send trackbacks to the article when you blog about it, and to make sure that your post is aggregated on to be eligible for the next month’s prize.

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