When Better Seems Bigger: Perceived Performance of Adult Professional Football Players Is Positively Associated With Perceptions of Their Body Size

Jill E.P. Knapen*, Thomas V. Pollet, Mark van Vugt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Research has shown a positive association between cues of physical formidability and perceptions of status, supporting a generic “bigger-is-better” heuristic. However, does better also lead to appraisals as bigger? Recent research suggests that the perceptual association between body size and social status can also be explained in terms of prestige. To test whether perceptions of prestige lead to higher appraisals of body size, we examined whether people apply a “better is bigger bias” (BBB) in football, where performance and body size tend to be uncorrelated. In two studies, we examined real coalitional sports groups on a national (Study 1) and team level (Study 2), and we manipulated target performance in an experimental third study. Results suggest that perceived performance significantly predicted both the perceived height (Studies 2 and 3) and perceived weight (Studies 1 and 2) of professional football players, supporting the BBB. Support for the team had a positive effect on body size estimations of the players; however, we did not find any support for winner or loser effects. We discuss these results in light of individual versus team performance and coalitional affiliation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalEvolutionary Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2019


Bibliographical note

Article first published online: April 29, 2019


  • coalitional affiliation
  • human height
  • physical formidability
  • social perception
  • status

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