Tell a man he’s weak and he’ll tell you he’s taller than he really is — at least, that’s what a new study found among college students. Researchers from the University of Washington looked out for specific male patterns to understand why they lie about their height. The findings, published in the journal Social Psychology, outline the psyche of men who believe they fall short of society’s definition of masculinity.

“We know that being seen as masculine is very important for a lot of men,” the study’s lead author Sapna Cheryan, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington, said in a press release. “We discovered that the things that men were using to assert their masculinity were the very things that are used as signals of identity. Height is something you think would be fixed, but how tall you say you are is malleable, at least for men.”

In the study, male college students from Stanford University were given a handgrip test and given false results on purpose. The researchers told them their handgrip strength was weaker than it really was, and as a result, claimed they were an average of three-quarters taller, had more romantic relationships, were more aggressive and athletic, and showed less interest in female consumer products. Men who were told accurate handgrip strength scores didn’t exaggerate any of those characteristics, and researchers believe it’s because their masculinity wasn’t threatened.

“This research shows that men are under very strong prescriptive norms to be a certain way, and they work hard to correct the image they project when their masculinity is under threat,” the study’s co-author Benoît Monin, a professor of organizational behavior and psychology at Stanford University, said in the school press release.

Researchers have found men, in particular, respond to masculinity threats by overcompensating. For example, previous research has shown men who have less masculine facial features, such as a “baby face,” are more likely to win military awards, have assertive and hostile personalities, and to commit crimes.

Women do the same thing, and it’s not because they want to force their way into stereotypical gender roles, but instead they’re afraid to violate gender expectations. Those who don’t fit the roles may experience backlash in the form of social and economic repercussions.

“Men have a lot of power in our society,” Monin said, “and what this study shows is that some decisions can be influenced by how they’re feeling about their masculinity in the moment.”

Source: Cheryan S, Cameron JS, Katagiri Z, and Monin B. Manning Up: Threatened Men Compensate by Disavowing Feminine Preferences and Embracing Masculine Attributes. Social Psychology. 2015.