U of M researchers find ceiling height can affect how a person thinks, feels and acts

April 24, 2007

For years contractors, real estate agents and event planners have said that whether building, buying or planning an event, a higher or vaulted ceiling is always better. Are they right? Until now there has been no real evidence that ceiling height has any influence or advantage with consumers. But recent research by Joan Meyers-Levy, a professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management, suggests that the way people think and act is affected by ceiling height.

Meyers-Levy and co-author Rui (Juliet) Zhu, assistant professor of marketing at the Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia and a Carlson doctoral alum, found that, depending on the situation, ceiling height will benefit or impair consumer responses. The paper "The Influence of Ceiling Height: The Effect of Priming on the Type of Processing People Use," will be published in the August issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

"When a person is in a space with a 10-foot ceiling, they will tend to think more freely, more abstractly," said Meyers-Levy. "They might process more abstract connections between objects in a room, whereas a person in a room with an 8-foot ceiling will be more likely to focus on specifics."

The research demonstrates that variations in ceiling height can evoke concepts that, in turn, affect how consumers process information. The authors theorized that when reasonably salient, a higher versus a lower ceiling can stimulate the concepts of freedom versus confinement, respectively. This causes people to engage in either more free-form, abstract thinking or more detail-specific thought. Thus, depending on what the task at hand requires, the consequences of the ceiling could be positive or negative.

"Depending on the activity or the desired outcome, ceiling height can make a big difference in how the consumer processes the information presented," says Meyers-Levy.

This work has important implications for retailers of all types who are faced with consumers whose thought processes might influence what products they buy, how they process point-of-purchase information and even sales persuasion strategies. Careful attention to this important design aspect of retail spaces can pay off for those with one eye on the ceiling and the other on the bottom line.
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University of Minnesota

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