Napoleon complex

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British propaganda of the time promoted the idea that Napoleon was short. Evacuation of Malta.jpg
British propaganda of the time promoted the idea that Napoleon was short.

"Napoleon Complex" is a theorized inferiority complex normally attributed to people of short stature. It is characterized by overly-aggressive or domineering social behavior, and carries the implication that such behavior is compensatory for the subject's physical or social shortcomings. However, colloquially, it is used in a derogatory fashion towards people of below-average height. Ironically and comically to modern-day short men, Napoleon Bonaparte was tall for his time. The later-invented term Napoleon Complex is not about being short at all. The term is used more generally to describe people who are driven by a perceived handicap to overcompensate for other aspects of their life. In psychology, the Napoleon complex is regarded as a derogatory social stereotype. [1]

A complex is a core pattern of emotions, memories, perceptions, and wishes in the personal unconscious organized around a common theme, such as power or status. Primarily a psychoanalytic term, it is found extensively in the works of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud.



The Napoleon complex is named after Emperor Napoleon I of France. Common folklore supposes that Napoleon compensated for his lack of height by seeking power, war, and conquest. This view was fostered and encouraged by the British, who waged a propaganda campaign to diminish their enemy in print and art, during his life and after his death. In 1803 he was mocked in British newspapers as a short-tempered small man. [2] He was actually 5′7″ tall, an inch or so above the period's average adult male height depending on the source chosen. [3] Other historians assert that he was 5'2" because he was measured on a British island 28 years after the French adopted the metric system. [4] . Napoleon was often seen with his Imperial Guard, which contributed to the perception of his being short because the Imperial Guards were tall men. Other names for the purported condition include Napoleonic complex, Napoleon syndrome and Short man syndrome. [5] [6] [7] [4]

Napoleon 19th century French military leader and politician

Napoléon Bonaparte was a French statesman and military leader of Italian descent who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and led several successful campaigns during the French Revolutionary Wars. He was Emperor of the French as Napoleon I from 1804 until 1814 and again briefly in 1815 during the Hundred Days. Napoleon dominated European and global affairs for more than a decade while leading France against a series of coalitions in the Napoleonic Wars. He won most of these wars and the vast majority of his battles, building a large empire that ruled over much of continental Europe before its final collapse in 1815. He is considered one of the greatest commanders in history, and his wars and campaigns are studied at military schools worldwide. Napoleon's political and cultural legacy has endured as one of the most celebrated and controversial leaders in human history.

Imperial Guard (Napoleon I) Elite soliders of Napoleons Grande Armée

The Imperial Guard was originally a small group of elite soldiers of the French Army under the direct command of Napoleon I, but grew considerably over time. It acted as his bodyguard and tactical reserve, and he was careful of its use in battle. The Guard was divided into the staff, infantry, cavalry, and artillery regiments, as well as battalions of sappers and marines. The guard itself as a whole distinguished between the experienced veterans and less experienced members by being separated into three sections: the Old Guard, Middle Guard and Young Guard.


In 2007, research by the University of Central Lancashire suggested that the Napoleon complex (described in terms of the theory that shorter men are more aggressive to dominate those who are taller than they are) is likely to be a myth. The study discovered that short men were less likely to lose their temper than men of average height. The experiment involved subjects dueling each other with sticks, with one subject deliberately rapping the other's knuckles. Heart monitors revealed that the taller men were more likely to lose their tempers and hit back. University of Central Lancashire lecturer Mike Eslea commented that "when people see a short man being aggressive, they are likely to think it is due to his size, simply because that attribute is obvious and grabs their attention." [7]

University of Central Lancashire

The University of Central Lancashire is a public university based in the city of Preston, Lancashire, England. It has its roots in The Institution For The Diffusion Of Useful Knowledge founded in 1828. Subsequently, known as Harris Art College, then Preston Polytechnic, then Lancashire Polytechnic, in 1992 it was granted university status by the Privy Council. The university is the 19th largest in the UK in terms of student numbers.

The Wessex Growth Study is a community-based longitudinal study conducted in the UK that monitored the psychological development of children from school entry to adulthood. The study was controlled for potential effects of gender and socioeconomic status, and found that "no significant differences in personality functioning or aspects of daily living were found which could be attributable to height"; [8] this functioning included generalizations associated with the Napoleon complex, such as risk-taking behaviours. [9]

A longitudinal study is a research design that involves repeated observations of the same variables over short or long periods of time. It is often a type of observational study, although they can also be structured as longitudinal randomized experiments.

Scientific control subject or observation selected to minimize the effects of variables other than the independent variable of an experiment

A scientific control is an experiment or observation designed to minimize the effects of variables other than the independent variable. This increases the reliability of the results, often through a comparison between control measurements and the other measurements. Scientific controls are a part of the scientific method.

Gender Characteristics distinguishing between masculinity and femininity

Gender is the range of characteristics pertaining to, and differentiating between, masculinity and femininity. Depending on the context, these characteristics may include biological sex, sex-based social structures, or gender identity. Many if not most societies use a gender binary, having two genders, men and women; those who exist outside these groups fall under the umbrella term non-binary or genderqueer. Some societies have specific genders besides "man" and "woman", such as the hijras of South Asia; these are often referred to as third genders.

Abraham Buunk, a professor at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, claimed to have found evidence of the small man syndrome. Researchers at the University found that men who were 1.63 metres (5 ft 4 in) were 50% more likely to show signs of jealousy than men who were 1.98 metres (6 ft 6 in). [5]

In 2018, evolutionary psychologist Mark van Vugt and his team at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam found evidence for the Napoleon complex in human males. Men of short stature behaved more (indirectly) aggressive in interactions with taller men. Their evolutionary psychology hypothesis argues that in competitive situations when males, human or nonhuman, receive cues that they are physically outcompeted the Napoleon complex psychology kicks in: physically weaker males should adopt alternative behavioral strategies to level the playing field, including showing indirect aggression and coalition building. [10]

Mark van Vugt is a Netherlands evolutionary psychologist who holds a professorship in evolutionary psychology and work and organizational psychology at the VU University Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Van Vugt has affiliate positions at the University of Oxford, Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology (ICEA).

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam university in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

The Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is a university in Amsterdam, Netherlands, founded in 1880, often ranking among the world's top 100 universities. The VU is one of two large, publicly funded research universities in the city, the other being the University of Amsterdam (UvA).The literal translation of the Dutch name Vrije Universiteit is "Free University". "Free" refers to independence of the university from both the State and the Dutch Reformed Church. Both within and outside the university, the institution is commonly referred to as "the VU". Although founded as a private institution, the VU has received government funding on a parity basis with public universities since 1970. The university is located on a compact urban campus in the southern Buitenveldert neighbourhood of Amsterdam and adjacent to the modern Zuidas business district.

Evolutionary psychology Application of evolutionary theory to identify which human psychological traits are evolved adaptations

Evolutionary psychology is a theoretical approach in the social and natural sciences that examines psychological structure from a modern evolutionary perspective. It seeks to identify which human psychological traits are evolved adaptations – that is, the functional products of natural selection or sexual selection in human evolution. Adaptationist thinking about physiological mechanisms, such as the heart, lungs, and immune system, is common in evolutionary biology. Some evolutionary psychologists apply the same thinking to psychology, arguing that the modularity of mind is similar to that of the body and with different modular adaptations serving different functions. Evolutionary psychologists argue that much of human behavior is the output of psychological adaptations that evolved to solve recurrent problems in human ancestral environments.

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  1. Sandberg, David E.; Linda D. Voss (September 2002). "The psychosocial consequences of short stature: a review of the evidence" (PDF). Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 16 (3): 450. doi:10.1053/beem.2002.0211. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-05-09. Retrieved 2008-01-01.
  2. "Greatest cartooning coup of all time: The Brit who convinced everyone Napoleon was short". National Post. 2016-04-28. Retrieved 2017-09-30.
  3. David A. Bell, Napoleon: A Concise Biography (Oxford University Press, 2015), p. 18.
  4. 1 2 Owen Connelly (2006). Blundering to Glory: Napoleon's Military Campaigns. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 7. ISBN   9780742553187.
  5. 1 2 Fleming, Nic (13 March 2008). "Short man syndrome is not just a tall story". The Telegraph. Retrieved 17 May 2017.
  6. Morrison, Richard (2005-10-10). "Heart of the Fifties generation beats once again". The Times. Retrieved 2008-01-17.
  7. 1 2 "Short men 'not more aggressive'". BBC News. 2007-03-28. Retrieved 2008-01-17.
  8. Ulph, F.; Betts, P; Mulligan, J; Stratford, R. J. (January 2004). "Personality functioning: the influence of stature". Archives of Disease in Childhood. 89 (1): 17–21. doi:10.1136/adc.2002.010694. PMC   1755926 . PMID   14709494.
  9. Lipman, Terri H.; Linda D. Voss (May–June 2005). "Personality Functioning: The Influence of Stature". MCN: The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing. 30 (3): 218. doi:10.1097/00005721-200505000-00019.
  10. Knapen, J. E., Blaker, N. M., & Van Vugt, M. (2018). The Napoleon Complex: When Shorter Men Take More. Psychological science, 0956797618772822.