Napoleon Syndrome

What is Napoleon Syndrome?

Also called Napoleon complex, Napoleon syndrome is a term used to refer to a theorized condition, which occurs in short statured people. It is named after the famous Emperor Napoleon and the domineering or aggressive social behavior are some of the characteristics of the condition.

There is also the implication that the behavior is compensatory for the stature of the subject. The term can also be used to generally refer to a perceived handicap for compensation in other aspects of their lives. The condition can be referred to in another term known as Short Man syndrome.

Napoleon Syndrome Picture 2

Where the Name was Derived from

It is attributed that Napoleon’s conventional wisdom was to compensate for his lack of height through seeking power, conquest, and war. Despite there being a claim that Napoleon was 5 feet 2 inches, it is suggested by historians that he was actually 5 feet 6 inches (1.68m) in height a bit tall than the average Frenchmen at that time.

He was often accompanied by his Imperial Guard who was taller than him contributing to the perception of him being short.

Napoleon Syndrome- Myth or Reality

The Napoleon Syndrome, in psychology, is often regarded to as a derogatory social stereotype.

However, research shows that Napoleon syndrome is a likely to be a myth. It was discovered that men of short height are less likely of losing temper than men of average height. The study was executed using subjects dueling each other using sticks as one deliberately raps the other’s knuckles.

It was revealed by heart monitors that taller men are most likely to lose tempers and hit back unlike the shorter men. Mike Eslea, a lecturer at Central Lancashire University, noted that people are likely to attribute a short man’s aggressiveness with his size since the height is obvious and attention grabbing.

A community-based longitudinal study in the UK called Wessex Growth Study monitored psychological developments of children from entry into school to adulthood. It was controlled for potential gender and socioeconomic status effects. The research concluded that no significant differences were found in personality functioning or daily living aspects that could be attributed to height.

Generalizations associated with Napoleon Syndrome such as risk- taking behaviors were also considered. However, Abraham Buunk a professor at the Groningen University

Netherlands has found new evidence of small syndrome noting that men of 1.63 meters (five feet 4 inches) were 50% more than men of 1.98 meters (6 feet 6 inches) in the likelihood of showing signs of jealous.

Recent studies are however leaning towards Napoleon syndrome as a reality. US government scientists argue that small man syndrome does exist. This is after a research the scientists conducted showed that men who feel to be least masculine tend to be at risk of doing or committing violent acts.

Napoleon complex supposes that men with a feeling of being least masculine can compensate to their physical shortcomings by seeking power, conquest, war, and other aggressive behaviors.

Another study conducted by Oxford University said that felling smaller could make people to feel mistrustful, paranoid, and more likely to start imagining or think that other people are talking about them or staring at them. 1,5


The stereotype is that those smaller males having short man syndrome are likely to be:

  • Aggressive
  • Talk loudly
  • Shout
  • Eager to proving themselves
  • Seek attention
  • Risk taking behaviors
  • Jealousy

Napoleon Syndrome Picture 1


The main cause of Napoleon complex is the aforementioned overcompensation, which was described by Freud as one of the ego defense mechanisms, an idea that the individuals could protect themselves from the belief of being small in size. Lack of confidence in regard to height might make them try and distract from it by proving the ability to “mix with big boys”.

Psychological evolutionary has been linked to Short Man syndrome. Evolutionary psychology observes the psychology as a race and how it was likely to evolutionary develop as a result of the survival value of particular behavioral traits.

The wild small individuals, in the case of Napoleon syndrome, may be required to make a lot of noise and act more aggressively for them to compete for food and mates.

However, there is another theory offering an explanation which turns this evolutionary idea on its head. The theory was put forward by Ohio University research with psychologists suggesting that larger combatants delay the actual combat for as long as possible hoping for recognition by the smaller party of the odds having been stacked against them and back down.

The larger group is most likely to be in a strong position (the ‘desperado effect’) despite the small individual having gained from the confrontation.

Small people use few resources and are less hindered by injury as a result of their smaller body weight. Smaller males may appear prone to attack first or act noisily but instead, it is an instance of ‘gentle giant syndrome’ where big individuals act reluctantly in the engagement of a confrontation hence the smaller people appear to be more aggressive.

Other possible theories explaining short man syndrome are for instance a fact that short people may have a lot of general difficulties in getting attention and may, therefore, develop louder behavior to enable attention seeking from others.

This could be a positive reinforcement if positive rewards were realized, which could condition them to behave in that pattern. The behaviors of Napoleon syndrome may be perceived as stemming from their insecurities.


One way of dealing with and getting over short syndrome is by changing attitude and way of thinking and realizing that a person cannot be viewed drastically different due to stature.

Getting rid of cognitive biases, through cognitive behavioral therapy, as a result of perceived shortcomings will enable one realize people do not view him/her differently.

In cognitive behavioral therapy, one is taught to recognize and understand his own thoughts and be able to control and change them thereafter. A therapist helps one learn the use of ‘mindfulness’ to reflect on the potential negative thought processes as well as positive affirmations and replace them with more positive laminations.

Concentrating on the advantages and positive benefits helps one overcome short man syndrome. Such benefits are the ability of shorter people to gain muscles easily and appearing stockier. This makes them appear more imposing in spite lack of height.

Short people also have lowered center of gravity enabling one to keep under the radar. The short stature in some people enables them to have more agility and develop better reflexes. Short people are preferred by some women since they are less intimidating.

There are several ways to compensate for the height if someone is totally unhappy with their height. For example, one can wear ‘height insoles” fitting their shoes elevating their heels which make them appear taller and more imposing.

It is hardly unnoticeable and it adds around 2-3 inches to your height, which takes one from the short to average or from average to tall making one more confident in social situations.

Napoleon Syndrome Picture Dog


In conclusion, Napoleon syndrome is more related to the attitude of a person and general perception of their appearance to others in social places.

One can overcome the syndrome by simply changing the attitude and his/her thoughts towards their short stature. One adopting and accepting the nature helps improve their confidence as well as improve their general perception in social places.

Reference List

  1. CONFIRMED: The Napoleon complex really exists. Available at
  2. Short Man Syndrome Explained. Available at
  3. Napoleon Complex. Available at
  4. Napoleon Complex. Available at
  5. Short men ‘not more aggressive’. Available at

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