2010 volume 39(10) pages 1390 – 1395
doi:10.1068/p6737

Cite as:
Mather G, 2010, "Head – body ratio as a visual cue for stature in people and sculptural art" Perception 39(10) 1390 – 1395

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Head – body ratio as a visual cue for stature in people and sculptural art

George Mather

Received 20 May 2010, in revised form 2 September 2010

Abstract. Body size is crucial for determining the outcome of competition for resources and mates. Many species use acoustic cues to measure caller body size. Vision is the pre-eminent sense for humans, but visual depth cues are of limited utility in judgments of absolute body size. The reliability of internal body proportion as a potential cue to stature was assessed with a large sample of anthropometric data, and the ratio of head height to body height (HBR) was found to be highly correlated with stature. A psychophysical experiment was carried out to investigate whether the cue actually influences stature judgments. Participants were shown pairs of photographs of human figures in which HBR had been manipulated systematically, and asked to select the figure that appeared taller. Results showed that figures with a relatively small HBR were consistently perceived as taller than figures with a relatively large HBR. Many classical statues such as Michelangelo’s David depart from the classical proportions defined in Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man. A supplementary experiment showed that perceived stature in classical statues also depends on HBR. Michelangelo’s David was created with the HBR of a man 165 cm (5 ft 5 in) tall.

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