You may be able to work on abstract problems better if you stand up, but sit down when it’s time to roll up your sleeves. A series of studies found that your elevation has an impact on your mindset and how you tackle problems.
Depending on the type of problem you are working on, you can benefit from either standing up or sitting down — or even being on a higher or lower floor in the building. The study, by Dr Pankaj Aggarwal and Dr Min Zhao, published in the Journal of Marketing Research, found that when subjects are — or even just believed they were — positioned higher up, they are more likely to take a broad view of a problem.
Conversely, people sitting down, positioned on a lower floor of a building, or just under the impression they were low down, were found to focus better on practical issues.
Aggarwal and Zhao’s study aimed to “investigate the extent to which perception of being high versus low affects consumers’ choices”:
Consider a consumer choosing between a multi-function desk requiring do-it-yourself assembly and a desk with basic features that comes pre-assembled. Will the consumer focus more on the desk’s functions and prefer the multi-function desk when the furniture store is located on the higher floor/level of a mall, yet focus more on convenience and prefer the pre-assembled desk when the store is located at the lower floor/level of the mall? Similarly, when a customer is meeting with her financial advisor, will she be more likely to look at the “big picture” of her investment while sitting on a higher chair compared with sitting on a lower chair?
A series of five studies involving between 46 and 107 participants each tested the effect of height and perceived height on people’s views. The tests involved noting reactions to working on different floors of a building, sitting on chairs of different heights, viewing images of objects taken from varying heights, and imagining winning money from a fund positioned to the North or the South. The results found a relationship between height and the way people act:
Our results show that a high or low perceived physical level evokes the corresponding construal level and impacts subsequent consumer preferences. Specifically, compared with a lower physical level, a higher physical level leads to a greater big-picture orientation (Study 1), broader categorization (Study 2), identification of BIF at a higher level (Study 3), greater preference for a desk with more desirability-related features (Study 4), and a preference for larger later real rewards (Study 5).
So what can you take away from the study? If you want to answer the “why” of a problem, you might want to try standing up, or heading upstairs. If you are more interested in tackling more short-term problems and work out the “hows”, sit down or stay downstairs. It’s something that business could keep in mind when deciding which meeting room to use.
You can read the full text of the study, its data and the researchers’ conclusions at the link below.
Seeing the Big Picture: The Effect of Height on the Level of Construal [Journal of Marketing Research via Futurity]