In a series of studies, Daniel M.T. Fessler examines our perceptions about people with high risk behaviors, especially what we think about those who are capable of violence. What he found was that, the more dangerous one was perceived, the more they were considered to be larger in height, muscularity and overall size, by others. Fessler calls this thought process the “Crazy Bastard Hypothesis," which he discovered through his conducted research. Participants were given short descriptions of different behavioral traits and were then asked to estimate corresponding heights for each characteristic. In the first five studies, behaviors that exposed a sense of adventurousness, courage, and boldness were perceived to be generally taller.The sixth installment of the research series took these findings even further, revealing that the correlation between high risk behavior and height didn't end there. Participants were also more likely to associate larger physical size to increased aggressive and violent behavior.

Three Guys Walk Into A Bar: One Starts A Fight, One Runs, And One Orders A Drink

All personality types described to participants in each study fell into 1 of 3 categories:

  • Risk-Prone: These are the daredevils. Individuals in this category are the ones sky diving, playing Russian roulette, and sailing rough waters without a life vest.
  • Risk-Averse: These are more reserved people. Individuals in this category are staying away from daredevils. Even watching something risky makes them uncomfortable.
  • Neutral: Neither risky, nor cautious. The neutral character was only an option for the sixth study.

The sixth part of the study involved telling participants a story. Researchers described three people: one risk-prone, one risk-adverse, and one neutral individual—all of whom walk into a bar where they are immediately insulted. Participants were then asked how tall they thought each character was and the likelihood of each individual meeting the insult with violence.

For most of the participants, the risk-prone character was considered “significantly more likely to fight the man in the bar, than the man described in either the neutral or risk-averse conditions."

Using this data, Fessler concluded that “physically risk-prone men are indeed perceived to be more violent."

Size, Our Perception Of Danger, and Fear Instincts

The way in which participants interpret given information shows interesting similarities to thought processes in anxiety patients. Oftentimes, people with anxiety focus on the worst-case scenario of a situation, and then avoid the situation because they deem it as dangerous. The worst possible outcome is analogous to the risk-prone character of Fessler's experiment. Given only details about how the individual engages in extreme sports and puts their life in danger, the study forces participants to focus on one aspect of the person. They paint a picture of a person who loves recklessness, and would probably enjoy creating some chancy situations. Would participants be less likely to label this character as formidable if the character was described to be a connoisseur of fine art as well? Yes.


Date of original publication: .

Updated on March 16, 2017.


Recommended For You