The Advantage of Standing Tall

When you get in the car in the morning, you will probably feel awake, motivated and set up for the day ahead. You fasten your seatbelt and adjust your rear view mirror before setting off by tilting it upwards. Ignition on and off to go!

You arrive at work, once you’ve finally found a place to park and get on with the day. You battle with deadlines, debate with colleagues, hardly stop for lunch, surviving off coffee and you cram in as much into the day as possible until you leave for home late, tired and slightly irritable, knowing that the nose-to-tail traffic is next on the agenda. You get in the car, click in the seatbelt, check the rear view mirror and…. you tilt it downwards to see behind you….

Why the diurnal shift in rearview mirror positioning?

When we are sad, tired, lack energy or when we are frightened, we slouch. Slouching shortens our bodies and our reduced height means that when we get in the car, we can’t see behind us through the rear view mirror. Rather than sitting up to see properly, we simply tilt the mirror downwards and slope off home, looking forward to a glass of wine with TV.

The association between emotion and body posture is well known, having been proven time and time again by psychologists in laboratories who test volunteers exhibiting different emotions. Tests show that we stand tall when we are happy or when we need to impose ourselves for emotional reasons such as anger or indignation.

How many times has the phrase “drawing his/herself up to his/her full height” been used in literature to convey indignant protest? This phrase which associates emotion with body posture has been cited for over two hundred years.

Here’s a recent example from JK Rowling in her novel “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”:

Fred and George, the two older brothers of Ron, were testing their new Fainting Fancies on the school newbies to see whether they had the right dosage of “faint” in them. Hermione, Ron’s friend, witnessed the children dropping like flies and wasn’t impressed. She strode over to the mischievous twins and instructed them to stop experimenting on the children. The twins taunted her with jibes, asking whether she was going to put them in detention or make them write lines.

In J K Rowling’s words Hermione “drew herself up to her full height” before saying  “No,” her voice quivering with anger, “but I will write to your mother.” “You wouldn’t,” said George, horrified, taking a step back from her. “Oh, yes, I would,” said Hermione grimly”.