Factors influencing preferences for height: A replication and extension

Factors influencing preferences for height: A replication and extension

Personality and Individual Differences 45 (2008) 395–400 Contents lists available at ScienceDirect Personality and Individual Differences journal ho...

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Personality and Individual Differences 45 (2008) 395–400

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Personality and Individual Differences journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/paid

Factors influencing preferences for height: A replication and extension Viren Swami a,*, Adrian Furnham b, Nereshnee Balakumar c, Candy Williams a, Kate Canaway d, Debbi Stanistreet e a

Department of Psychology, University of Westminster, 309 Regent Street, London W1B 2UW, UK Department of Psychology, University College London, 26 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AP, UK c Division of Medicine, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK d South West London and St. George’s Mental Health NHS Trust, Springfield University Hospital, 61 Glenburnie Road, London SW17 7DJ, UK e Division of Public Health, University of Liverpool, Whelan Building, Quadrangle, Brownlow Hill, Liverpool L69 3GB, UK b

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history: Received 11 February 2008 Received in revised form 26 March 2008 Accepted 15 May 2008 Available online 26 June 2008 Keywords: Height preferences Sexual dimorphism Gender roles Conformity Personality

a b s t r a c t The present study examined preferences for absolute height and the male-taller norm in a community sample of 901 British individuals. Initial results replicated previous studies, showing that both women and men preferred relationships in which the woman was shorter than the man. Specifically, the ideal male partner for women was significantly taller than the average man in our sample, and there was no significant difference between the ideal female partner for men and the average woman in the sample. In addition, there were weak associations between height preferences and endorsement of several aspects of the traditional male gender role (rs = .04–.23). Height preferences were also correlated with self-esteem (rs = .15–.17), conformity (rs = .14–.15), and the Big Five personality facets of neuroticism and extraversion (rs = .07–.25). Limitations of the present study and the association between attractiveness preferences and actual mate choice decisions are discussed in conclusion. Ó 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction A substantial body of research now exists in relation to individual, contextual, and cultural predictors of attractiveness judgements, in line with theoretical discussions about the confluence of evolved and cultural pathways (e.g., Swami & Furnham, 2008). Thus, recent studies have demonstrated that physical attractiveness judgements are influenced by such factors as sociosexuality (Swami, Miller, Furnham, Penke, & Tovée, 2008), recent sexual activity (Hess, Brody, van der Schalk, & Fischer, 2007), drive for status and power (Schmalt, 2006), environmental stress (Scott, Swami, Josephson, & Penton-Voak, in press), and shifting cultural contexts (Tovée, Swami, Furnham, & Mangalparsad, 2006). A small number of studies have also begun examining factors influencing height preferences in an opposite-sex partner (e.g., Salska et al., 2008). The dominant paradigm for understanding height preferences stems from the evolutionary psychological prediction that height and stature signal certain preferred traits or heritable qualities. Thus, a number of studies have shown that tall stature in men is associated with ‘good genes’, as is reflected in their greater reproductive success than men of average height (e.g., Nettle, 2002a; Pawłowski, Dunbar, & Lipowicz, 2000). In addition, tall stature in men * Corresponding author. Tel.: +44 2079115000x2120. E-mail address: [email protected] (V. Swami). 0191-8869/$ - see front matter Ó 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2008.05.012

may signal the ability to secure resources (Higham & Carment, 1992; Judge & Cable, 2004; Young & French, 1998) and the ability to intimidate potential rivals (Salska et al., 2008). In accordance with this view, many studies have reported taller men being considered more attractive (e.g., Jackson & Ervin, 1992; Pawłowski & Koziel, 2002; Pawłowski & Jasien´ska, 2005) and dating more often (Sheppard & Strathman, 1989) than men of average height. By contrast, Nettle (2002b) reported that there is no advantage for women in terms of reproductive success in being taller than average. This is consistent with the finding that height is less important to the physical attractiveness of women, and that men find women of average height most attractive and date them the most frequently (Jackson & Ervin, 1992; Sheppard & Strathman, 1989). While the evolutionary psychological approach to height preferences has been illuminating, two further processes are important to note. First, height preferences often reflect basic social or gender stereotypes that prescribe a shorter mate for men and a taller mate for women (Cameron, Oskamp, & Sparks, 1977; Martel & Billier, 1987). That is, height preferences may occur through the cultural transmission of certain rules regarding behaviour, which are learned and internalised by women and men in particular cultures. For example, stereotypical height preferences may reflect gender role norms that construct tall men as ‘masculine’ (Helgeson, 1994) and tall women as violating accepted norms (cf. Boyson, Pryor, & Butler, 1999). Thus, to the extent that women and men


V. Swami et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 45 (2008) 395–400

are stigmatised for contravening gendered or social norms of behaviour, this should serve as an incentive for entering relationships where the male partner is taller than the female partner. Second, studies that have focused on absolute preferences for height have tended to overlook the possibility that individuals adjust their preferences based on an evaluation of factors such as their own height and perceived competition for mates. This perspective hinges on the relative height of men and women, which Pawłowski (2003) operationalised as sexual dimorphism ratio (SDR) in stature (measured as male height divided by female height). In support of conditional height preferences, it has been reported that individuals adjust their preferences for SDR in relation to their own height (Pawłowski, 2003; Fink, Neave, Brewer, & Pawlowski, 2007) and, in women, in relation to their menstrual cycle and sociosexuality (Pawłowski & Jasien´ska, 2005). The latter study in particular suggests that indicators of heritable fitness are prioritised when women ovulate, presumably because this motivates the formation of relationships with individuals who increase one’s reproductive potential. In one recent study, Salska et al. (2008) examined absolute height preferences as well as ideal SDR in a sample of North American undergraduates. They reported that (1) women rated average or above-average men (177 cm–195 cm) as the most attractive, whereas men rated short to above-average women (152 cm– 183 cm) as the most attractive1; (2) in terms of SDR, men preferred women shorter than themselves, whereas women preferred men taller than themselves; (3) tall men and shorter women preferred larger ideal SDRs, and; (4) endorsement of male gender role norm (measured using the 8-item Male Role Attitudes Scale; Pleck, Sonenstein, & Ku, 1994) was only weakly correlated with absolute height and SDR preferences. These findings, Salska et al. (2008) proposed, supported a perspective in which height preferences were conditional upon evolved indicators of good condition in a potential mate as well as socially-transmitted norms of behaviour. It is possible to extend the work of Salska et al. (2008) by examining whether there are other individual difference predictors of preferences for ideal height and SDR. To this end, the present study sought to examine the relationship between height preferences and gendered norms using a more comprehensive measure of endorsement of the traditional male role, namely the three subscales of the 26-item Male Role Norms Scale (MRNS; Thompson & Pleck, 1986). Specifically, we predicted that (1) women who believe men should display physical and emotional toughness would be more attracted to taller men, as such men display indicators of dominance; (2) women who believe that men should be high in status in society would prefer taller men, as such men possess indicators that afford high status, and; (3) individuals who believe that men should avoid anything stereotypically feminine would prefer relationships where the man is taller than the woman. In addition, we also examined the association of height preferences with: (1) Conformity, which Mehrabian (2005, p. 2) defined as ‘‘a characteristic willingness to identify with others and emulate them, to give in to others so as to avoid negative interactions, and generally, to be a follower rather than a leader in terms of ideas, values, and behaviors.” We predicted that individuals who show greater willingness to conform would more strongly endorse stereotypical height preferences (for men shorter-than-he, for women taller-than-she). (2) Self-esteem, which is a positive or negative evaluation of one’s self-worth (Rosenberg, 1965). Two possible hypotheses were tested: first, that individuals with high self-esteem 1 Salska et al. (2008) reported their measurements in feet and inches, but in the present study we have reported metric measurements (where 1 foot roughly equals 30 cm).

would be more confident about their self-image, and consequently less likely to show a preference for stereotypical height preferences. Alternatively, it may be that self-esteem is derived from the fact that individuals do endorse gendered ideals, which would lead to a positive association between self-esteem and height preferences. (3) Big Five personality traits, which is a hierarchical model of personality with five bipolar traits (Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, Openness, and Extraversion) representing personality at the broadest level of abstraction (McCrae & Costa, 1997). The Big Five framework has proved useful in diverse fields of research (Ozer & Benet-Martinez, 2006), but has been neglected in relation to attractiveness ratings. Its inclusion in the present study was exploratory and, as such, no explicit hypotheses were formulated.

2. Method 2.1. Participants Participants in this study were 901 individuals from a community sample recruited from Greater London. Due to the small number of participants who self-reported as being gay (n = 24), bisexual (n = 22), or unsure about their sexual orientation (n = 4), these participants were excluded from the data analysis, leaving a sample of 426 women and 425 men (age M ± SD = 27.13 ± 12.26). The majority of participants were of Caucasian descent (64.7%), with smaller samples of Asian (11.6%), Afro-Caribbean (9.0%), or other ethnic descent (14.7%). Most participants were single (54.4%), in a dating relationship (24.3%), or married (14.9%). In terms of highest educational qualifications, 11.9% of participants had been educated to a GCSE level, 13.3% to A-Levels, 36.5% had a vocational diploma, 34.7% had an undergraduate degree, and 3.5% had a postgraduate degree. 2.2. Measures 2.2.1. Height and weight Participants self-reported their own height and weight (the data were coded in centimetres and kilogrammes, respectively). 2.2.2. Ideal height and sexual dimorphism in stature (Salska et al., 2008) Participants indicated the ideal height of someone they would like to date (all responses were coded in centimetres). To investigate preferences for SDR, we followed Salska et al. (2008) in calculating the ideal SDR for men (participants’ own height divided by ideal partner’s height) and for women (ideal partner’s height divided by participants’ own height). SDRs, therefore, indicated a desire for a relationship in which the male partner is taller than the female partner. 2.2.3. Male Role Norms Scale (MRNS; Thompson & Pleck, 1986) The 26-item MRNS measures endorsement of male gender role ideology (sample item: ‘A man whose hobbies are cooking, sewing, and going to the ballet probably would not appeal to me’). The items were rated on a 5-point scale (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree), and the mean of certain items were computed to arrive at the three MRNS subscales: Status (11 items), Toughness (7 items), and Anti-femininity (8 items). Higher scores on each of the subscales represent more traditional gender role attitudes. In line with previous studies (McCreary, Newcomb, & Sadava, 1998), Cronbach’s a coefficients for the three subscales in the present study were moderate-to-good: Status a = .79, Toughness a = .65, and Anti-femininity a = .70.

3.2. Preferences for absolute height As expected, the ideal male partner for women (179.75 cm) was significantly taller than the average man (175.78 cm) in our

27.80(12.41) 2.60 0.11 8.13 (2.13) 1.53 0.09 10.75 (1.42) 0.34 0.04 10.98 (2.06) 4.97* 0.15 10.04 (1.46) 5.59* 0.17 9.26 (2.00) 5.72* 0.16 36.98 (4.75) 12.48** 0.24 4.91 (13.68) 4.11* 1.39 2.95 (0.81) 55.13** 0.52 3.08 (0.72) 64.05** 0.55 2.85 (0.71) 2.10 0.10 167.64 (10.64) 246.77** 1.08 175.78 (6.37) 313.11** 1.22

1.05 (0.09) 21.73** 0.35


.11* .06 10.70 (1.13) .07 .08 .06 10.68 (1.96)

.05 .13** .16** .04 9.82 (1.19) .27** .08 0.03 .05 .01 8.97 (1.52)

.16** .34** .04 .05 .46** .12* 35.82 (4.88) .43** .08 .12* .17** .12* .12* .19** 3.18 (11.08)

.00 .06 .01 .01 .16** .09 .08 .09 2.57 (0.65) .60** .01 .09 .11* .05 .02 .04 .02 .07 2.70 (0.65)

.38** .55** .02 .05 .16** .13** .04 .23** .02 .05 2.78 (0.74) .16** .07 .08 .22** .13** .08 .04 .01 .03 .21** .06 1.08 (0.08)


.17 .08 .23** .03 .15** .03 .15** .01 .07 .14** .20** .06 179.75 (11.81)

.42** .47**

.14 8.33 (2.45)

.04 .09 .10* .05 .03 .09 .18** .12* .26** .13** .14** .02 .03 .12* .14** .02 .05 .10 .17** .11* .50** .08 .21** .11* .13** .15** .02 .08 .01 .03 .19** .28** .04 .02 .08 .14** .14** .25** .16** .15** .10* .34** .14** .15** .09 .22** .02 .05 .05 .11* .27** .13** .01 .09 .08 .02 .06 .14** .29** .44** .38** .35** .22** .29** .17** .23** .06 .20** .22** .32** .38** .14** .26** .05 .29** .04 .08 .04 .06 .44** .56** .24** .16** .10* .52**



Table 1 shows that there were no significant sex differences on the Anti-femininity subscale of the MRNS, Agreeableness, Neuroticism, and participant age. However, men had higher scores than women on the Status and Toughness subscales of the MRNS, selfesteem, Openness, Conscientiousness, and Extraversion. Men were also less conforming than women.

.44** .75** .10* .03 .11* .05 .12* .04 .05 .01 .06 .11* .12* 166.51 (8.67)

3.1. Descriptive statistics

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Women M(SD) Men M(SD) Fa d

3. Results

3a Ideal SDR

All participants were recruited opportunistically through a snowball-sampling technique. Once ethical approval for the project was obtained, several data collectors directly recruited participants through their personal contacts. All participants completed the five-page paper-and-pencil questionnaire anonymously and under conditions of strict confidentiality. The questionnaire took approximately 20 min to complete, and all participants were verbally debriefed following the experiment.

2 Ideal height (cm)

2.3. Procedure

1 Participant height (cm)

2.2.7. Demographics All participants provided their demographic details, consisting of sex, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, marital status, and highest educational qualification.

Table 1 Height preferences and associations with predictor variables for women (lower off-diagonal entries) and men (upper off-diagonal entries)

2.2.6. Abbreviated, 15-item Big Five questionnaire (McManus, Keeling, & Paice, 2004) This is a brief scale for assessing the Big Five personality facets (sample item: ‘I’m pretty good about pacing myself so as to get things done on time’). Ratings were made on a 5-point scale (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree) and the five personality facets were arrived at by summing certain items. Alpha coefficients were as follows: openness (a = .56), conscientiousness (a = .58), extraversion (a = .62), agreeableness (a = .56), and neuroticism (a = .58). Although these reliabilities are low, it should be noted that they were derived from three items per personality trait, and previous work has shown that they are suitable for looking at population-level correlations (McManus et al., 2004).

11 E

2.2.5. Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSE; Rosenberg, 1965) The RSE is a brief, 10-item scale measuring self-worth, rated on a 4-point scale (1 = strongly disagree, 4 = strongly agree) (sample item: ‘I feel that I’m a person of worth, at least on an equal plane with others’). Five items were reverse-coded prior to analysis, and an overall RSE score was computed by summing responses to all items. The scale showed good internal consistency in the present study (a = .88).

.04 .14** .15**

12 A

13 N


2.2.4. Conformity Scale (CS; Mehrabian, 2005) This 11-item scale measures conformity on a 9-point scale ( 4 = very strong disagreement, +4 = very strong agreement) (sample item: ‘I often rely on, and act upon, the advice of others’). A total score is computed by summing participants’ responses to seven positively-worded items and by subtracting this value from the sum of their responses to four negatively-worded items (a = 74). Previous studies have shown the Conformity Scale to have good test–retest reliability and construct validity (e.g., Mehrabian & Stefl, 1995).

Notes: Abbreviations: SDR = Sexual Dimorphism Ratio; MRNSAF = Anti-femininity; MRNSS = Status; MRNST = Toughness; CS = Conformity Scale; RSE = Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale; O = Openness; C = Conscientiousness; E = Extraversion; A = Agreeableness; N = Neuroticism. a Df = 1,850. * p < 0.05. ** p < .001.


V. Swami et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 45 (2008) 395–400


V. Swami et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 45 (2008) 395–400

sample, F(1,850) = 37.31, p < .001, d = 0.42. By contrast, there was no significant difference between the ideal female partner for men (167.64 cm) and the average woman (166.51 cm) in our sample, F(1,848) = 2.90, p > .05, d = .12.

MRNS (b = .13, t = 2.34, p < .05) were the only significant predictors of women’s ideal SDR.

3.3. Preferences for sexual dimorphism in stature

In our sample, tall men preferred larger ideal SDRs (see Table 1), which would serve to widen the pool of potential partners. In addition, men’s absolute height preference in a female partner was significantly correlated with the Status and Anti-femininity subscales of the MRNS, conformity, self-esteem, and the Big Five facets of Extraversion and Neuroticism (see Table 1). We entered these variables into a multivariate regression model, controlling for participants’ height, and the results revealed a significant prediction, F(6,418) = 3.49, p < .05, Adj. R2 = .03. Extraversion (b = .21, t = 3.97, p < .001), Anti-femininity (b = .10, t = 2.10, p < .05), and Neuroticism (b = .12, t = 2.02, p < .05) were all significant predictors of men’s absolute height preferences. Table 1 also shows that men’s ideal SDR was significantly correlated with the Anti-femininity and Status subscales of the MRNS, conformity, self-esteem, Openness, Extraversion, and participants’ age. We, therefore, offered these variables as candidates to a multivariate regression model, controlling for participants’ age. The results were significant, F(7,417) = 3.23, p < .05, Adj. R2 = .03, with the inclusion of Anti-femininity (b = .12, t = 1.84, p < .05) and conformity (b = .08, t = 1.44, p < .05).

As noted above, we calculated an SDR for each participant, such that SDRs greater than 1.0 reflected a preference for a relationship in which the woman is shorter than the man. In our sample, men preferred women who were shorter than themselves (SDR = 1.05), and women preferred men taller than themselves (SDR = 1.08). The difference in preferred SDR between women and men was significant, as reported in Table 1. Furthermore, the majority of men (91.5%) indicated that their ideal partner was shorter than them, and almost all women (96.9%) reported that their ideal partner was taller than them (see Fig. 1). 3.4. Predictors of women’s height preferences Table 1 shows that shorter women preferred shorter men in absolute terms, but also preferred larger ideal SDRs, which is consistent with Salska et al. (2008). Women’s ideal height in a partner was significantly correlated with the status subscale of the MRNS, conformity, Openness, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (see Table 1). These items were, therefore, offered as predictor variables to a multivariate regression model, which controlled for participants’ own height. The analysis returned a significant result, F(5,420) = 8.61, p < .001, Adj. R2 = .08, with the Status subscale of the MRNS (b = .24, t = 5.04, p < .001), neuroticism (b = .17, t = 3.46, p < .05), and openness (b = .09, t = 2.00, p < .05) significantly predicting height preferences. Women’s ideal SDR was significantly correlated with Anti-femininity scores on the MRNS, conformity, self-esteem, and neuroticism (see Table 1). A multivariate regression model with these variables and controlling for participants’ height returned a significant result, F(4,421) = 4.81, p < .001, Adj. R2 = .04. Neuroticism (b = .21, t = 3.72, p < .001) and the Anti-femininity subscale of the


Sex Men Women






0.0% Ideal partner is shorter

Ideal partner is the same height

Ideal partner is taller

Fig. 1. Percentage of women and men who indicated that their ideal partner is taller, shorter, or the same height as themselves.

3.5. Predictors of men’s height preferences

4. Discussion The first part of the present study replicates previous work showing that women consider taller men as being more attractive mates than shorter or average-height men (e.g., Pawłowski & Koziel, 2002; Pawłowski & Jasien´ska, 2005; Salska et al., 2008). In the present study, women’s absolute height preference for a male partner was 179.75 cm, which is about 1 cm shorter than the ideal reported by women in the study by Salska et al. (2008). In addition, men in the present study showed a preference for women who were shorter than themselves, and roughly centred on the average height of women in our sample. This, too, is consistent with previous work (Jackson & Ervin, 1992; Sheppard & Strathman, 1989) and indeed, it is notable that men in the present study reported a female ideal of 167.64 cm, which is about 1 cm shorter than the ideal reported by men in the study by Salska et al. (2008). Taken together, these data suggest there is a strong tendency among both women and men to seek relationships in which the man is taller than the woman. Nevertheless, the present results also support the argument that height preferences are partly dependent on an individual’s own height (Fink et al., 2007; Pawłowski, 2003; Pawłowski & Jasien´ska, 2005). In the present study, participants’ own height was significantly correlated with ideal SDR, such that shorter women and taller men preferred larger ideal SDRs. These data are consistent with the findings of Salska et al. (2008), who further postulated that such results may reflect an attempt by shorter women and taller men to maximise their pool of potential partners. Conversely, they point out, shorter men and taller women who prefer smaller SDRs may ensure that ‘‘their dating pool . . . exclude[s] individuals outside the typical range of height” (Salska et al., 2008, p. 211). The present results also showed that gender role norms, particularly the Anti-femininity subscale of the MRNS, was significantly correlated with height preferences. Consistent with Salska et al. (2008), however, these correlations were generally quite weak and were likely inflated by the large sample size in the present study. That is, although the MRNS was able to assess masculine gender norms with more complexity than global indices such as the Male Role Attitudes Scale (Sinn, 1997), the associations be-

V. Swami et al. / Personality and Individual Differences 45 (2008) 395–400

tween the MRNS subscales and height preferences remained relatively weak. The reason for this is puzzling: conceptually, at least, it is reasonable to expect significant associations between height preferences and gender role norms, but these associations do not appear to be borne out in the current study or in previous work (Salska et al., 2008). It may be the case that even more sophisticated measures of gender role norms are required. Although use of the MRNS represents an improvement over previous work, it is worth noting that more comprehensive and contemporary scales measuring conformity to gender norms are available, such as Mahalik et al.’s (2003) Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory (CMNI). The CMNI measured conformity to masculine norms along twelve dimensions, only some of which may be expected to be correlated to height preferences (e.g., the Dominance, Playboy, Power over women, Physical toughness, and Pursuit of status subscales). Moreover, the focus on masculine gender roles in the existing literature obscures the possibility that feminine norms may likewise prescribe height norms (the latter could be measured using Mahalik et al.’s (2005) Conformity to Feminine Norms Inventory). The present results also showed that conformity predicted a preference for relationships in which the man is taller than the woman. This result is perhaps not surprising, as it suggests that less assertive or conforming individuals were more likely to acquiesce with prevalent height norms. Indeed, previous studies have shown that highly conforming individuals (albeit measured using alternative scales) are more likely to conform on issues that are personally unimportant or perceived as appropriate, which may include height preferences (e.g., Johnson, 1989). Finally, the present results also showed that the Big Five personality framework was useful in predicting height preferences. Specifically, Neuroticism predicted stereotypical height preferences for both women and men, while Extraversion predicted a male preference for a shorter partner. The former result is particularly noteworthy, as it may reflect an attempt by Neurotic individuals to avoid any negative emotions associated with contravening gendered or social norms of height preferences. Aside for re-examining the association between height preferences and gender role norms using more contemporary measures, there are a number of other ways in which the present study could be extended. For instance, it may be interesting to examine whether feminist ascription mediates stereotypical height preferences, as it does in the case of body size ideals (Swami, Salem, Furnham, & Tovée, 2008). Additionally, future research should endeavour to examine height preferences in non-Western settings (e.g., see Cassidy, 1991; Sear, 2006; Sear, Allal, & Mace, 2004), as doing so may provide a more comprehensive account of the way in which ecological and cultural factors affect height preferences among different populations. In conclusion, the present results support previous work showing relatively robust and stereotypical height preferences among Western populations, and suggest that personality and individual differences may be significant, if weak, correlates of those preferences. However, an important question that we have not tackled is whether height preferences in particular, and attractiveness ideals in general, actually translate into mating opportunities. Eaves and Hatemi (Submitted for publication), for example, have shown that the spousal correlation for height in a sample of almost 5000 married and cohabiting individuals was relatively weak (r = .23) in comparison to other spousal measures (e.g., church attendance or support for a political party). It might be suggested that, in reality, mate choice decisions are moderated by a host of proximate factors that complicate the association between attractiveness ideals or preferences and actual mate choice (see Swami, 2007; Swami & Furnham, 2008).


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