Tall Poppy Syndrome

Tall Poppy Syndrome, rooted in historical anecdotes, manifests as societal pushback against conspicuous success. It reflects deep-rooted tensions between individual accomplishment and collective conformity, gaining prominence in settings that emphasize social equality.


Tall Poppy Syndrome (TPS) describes a social phenomenon where individuals who achieve notable success or prominence are targeted for criticism, resentment, or ostracism. It highlights a tendency in human social behavior to pull down those who stand out due to their achievements or status.


The term “Tall Poppy Syndrome” originates from an anecdote in Herodotus’ “Histories,” involving Thrasybulus, the ruler of Miletus. In this story, Periander, the ruler of Corinth, sends a messenger to Thrasybulus to seek advice on governance. Instead of directly responding, Thrasybulus leads the messenger through a wheat field and cuts down the tallest wheat ears, effectively destroying the best part of the crop. This act was later interpreted by Periander as implicit advice to remove the most influential or capable citizens in his realm as a means to maintain control. This metaphor of cutting down the tallest wheat ears, representing the removal of prominent individuals to prevent challenges to authority, inspired what is known as the “Tall Poppy Syndrome.”

Psychological Underpinnings

  • Envy and Resentment: TPS often stems from feelings of envy and resentment at an individual level, where people feel threatened or diminished by another’s success or status.
  • Equality and Conformity: Societally, TPS can be driven by a collective desire for equality and conformity. Success that deviates from the norm or societal expectations can be perceived as disruptive to social harmony.
  • Cognitive Biases: Cognitive biases, such as in-group favoritism and out-group negativity, contribute significantly to the emergence of TPS. These biases affect how individuals perceive others’ success and react to it within a social context.

Contemporary Relevance

  • Social Media and Visibility of Success: In the age of social media, the visibility and perception of success have greatly increased, potentially intensifying the effects of TPS as achievements and status become more publicly visible and subject to scrutiny.
  • Changing Social and Political Trends: TPS is influenced by contemporary social and political trends, including changing workplace dynamics and cultural values. This includes a growing focus on collective success and the impact of digital platforms in amplifying personal achievements.

Societal Impacts

  • Positive and Negative Consequences: While TPS can function as a social mechanism to maintain equality, it can also suppress individual achievement and diversity in skill and opinion, leading to a homogenized society.
  • Influence on Innovation and Economy: TPS can stifle innovation and economic growth by creating a social environment that discourages individuals from pursuing high achievement or taking risks due to fear of social backlash.
  • Control and Suppression Strategy: The strategy of eliminating prominent individuals in societies, as highlighted in Tall Poppy Syndrome, serves as a means to maintain control. This approach is often used by those in power to prevent any challenges to their authority, minimizing the influence of highly competent or popular individuals who could disrupt the social hierarchy or status quo.