Elevation in buildings can affect the decisions we make

April 16, 2018

People rely on financial managers, doctors and lawyers to be as objective as possible when making decisions about investments, health and legal issues, but findings from a new study suggest that an unexpected factor could be influencing these choices.

In a series of experiments, researchers found that people at higher elevations in an office building were more willing to take financial risks. The study is available online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

"When you increase elevation, there is a subconscious effect on the sense of power," says lead author Sina Esteky, PhD, an assistant professor of marketing in the business school at Miami University. "This heighted feeling of power results in more risk-seeking behavior."

In a pilot study, the researchers analyzed data from more than 3,000 hedge funds throughout the world that accounted for assets over $500 billion. They correlated the level of volatility of the fund with the floor level of the firm--which ranged from the first to the 96th floor. The researchers found a slight but significant correlation between increased elevation and the volatility of the fund.

Esteky's team also conducted experiments in which participants were asked to make a betting decision as they were either ascending or descending in the glass elevator of a tall building. The participants who were going up to the 72rd floor were more likely to opt for the risky lottery that could result in either a small or significant win. Those who were descending preferred the conservative lottery with either a moderate or slightly larger win.

In another experiment, participants were either on the ground floor or third floor of a university building, and they were asked to make 10 decisions with differing levels of risk and payoff. Again, the researchers found that participants on the third floor more frequently chose risky options than their ground floor counterparts. To better understand the reason for this behavior, participants completed a series of unfinished words, and people on the third floor were more likely to create words associated with power than the participants on the ground floor. The researchers believe that increased power-related thoughts might explain how elevation affects risk preferences.

Esteky suggests that elevation of an office building may be one reason certain hedge fund managers are willing to invest in risky assets such as Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency and worldwide payment system that is highly volatile. Although this study was limited to financial decisions, further studies could show whether the subconscious effect of elevation influences other professionals like doctors who are choosing treatment plans for patients, Esteky says. In another experiment, he discovered that people were more open to taking a sensory risk by trying an unfamiliar fruit when they were at a higher elevation in a building.

Although the implications of these findings could be unsettling for consumers who are relying on themselves or paid experts to make rational choices, the elevation effect vanished when participants were informed that floor level influences behavior, Esteky explains. The effect also disappeared when people could not see that they were on a higher floor level, such as those in cubicles without a window view.

"The important lesson is that when people become aware of the potential impact of elevation, it doesn't happen anymore," Esteky says. "The brain is very susceptive to subtle situational factors, but also really good at correcting for such effects, so awareness can help us be more rational in our decisions."
-end-
An abstract of the paper appeared online on January 9, 2018. The full-text of the paper will be published in print in the July 2018 issue of the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

For more information, contact:

Sina Esteky
estekys@miamioh.edu
3031 Farmer School of Business
800 E. High Street
Oxford, OH 45056-3600

Society for Consumer Psychology

Related Decisions Articles from Brightsurf:

Consumers value difficult decisions over easy choices
In a paper co-authored by Gaurav Jain, an assistant professor of marketing in the Lally School of Management at Rensselaer, researchers found that disfluency, or the difficulty for an individual to process a message, increases people's attitudes toward that message after a time delay.

Evolutionary theory of economic decisions
When survival over generations is the end game, researchers say it makes sense to undervalue long shots that could be profitable and overestimate the likelihood of rare bad outcomes.

Decisions made for incapacitated patients often not what families want
Researchers from Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University report in a study published in JAMA Network Open that nearly half of the time medical treatments and orders received for incapacitated patients were not compatible with goals of care requested by their surrogate decision makers.

Which COVID-19 models should we use to make policy decisions?
A new process to harness multiple disease models for outbreak management has been developed by an international team of researchers.

For complex decisions, narrow them down to two
When choosing between multiple alternatives, people usually focus their attention on the two most promising options.

Fungal decisions can affect climate
Research shows fungi may slow climate change by storing more carbon.

How decisions unfold in a zebrafish brain
Researchers were able to track the activity of each neuron in the entire brain of zebrafish larvae and reconstruct the unfolding of neuronal events as the animals repeatedly made 'left or right' choices in a behavioral experiment.

Best of the best: Who makes the most accurate decisions in expert groups?
New method predicts accuracy on the basis of similarity.

How do brains remember decisions?
Mammal brains -- including those of humans -- store and recall impressive amounts of information based on our good and bad decisions and interactions in an ever-changing world.

How we make complex decisions
MIT neuroscientists have identified a brain circuit that helps break complex decisions down into smaller pieces.

Read More: Decisions News and Decisions Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.