Height has certain performance advantages in sport—take a look at basketball players, for instance. But a recent study suggests even tall football quarterbacks might be enjoying an enhanced understanding of spatial relations. By measuring the spatial ability of short and tall people in a set of trials, researchers have found that taller folks have an intrinsically better understanding of space.
In Brief: Spatial Relations
Although extremely useful, the eyes are not enough on their own to accurately assess the space in front of you. People determine distances best when there are other objects around that can be used for comparison. The ability to process this type of information falls under the category of spatial relations.
The Ohio State University study was a small one with only 24 subjects, half tall and half short, who were asked to predict the distance of a target under three different conditions: full light, pitch-darkness, and in darkness with dimly-lit red LED markers on the floor or ceiling for reference. During the dark experiments, the target was a green LED light that was shown, removed, and then the participants were asked to walk to and point out its location.
In general, the shorter people did worse on the dark tests than the taller ones, though they weren’t perfect either. One possible explanation is that height bestowed an advantage on understanding space at a distance, since taller subjects are looking at the ground from a better vantage point. To test this, another set of trials were run where the tall people had to sit and the short ones stood on a box in order to reverse their eye level. Even under this condition, the taller people still showed better results.
One possible explanation is that, rather than getting an advantage from height in any given situation, tall people develop an inherently improved sense of spatial relations over the course of their lives. This would explain why temporarily losing the height advantage would not significantly change the results, since both the tall and short participants would still be performing the tests using their inherent understandings of space.
Crane, M., “Want to hit your target? Good luck, short stuff,” Ohio State University web site, August 31, 2016; https://news.osu.edu/news/2016/08/31/height-benefits-vision/, last accessed September 6, 2016.