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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On the up and up?

If people were primed to think about height, they wondered, might people be more virtuous?

In a series of four different studies, the authors found consistent support for their predictions. In the first study they found that twice as many mall shoppers who had just ridden an up escalator contributed to the Salvation Army than shoppers who had just ridden the down escalator. In a second study, participants who had been taken up a short flight of stairs to an auditorium stage to complete a series of questionnaires volunteered more than 50 percent more of their time than participants who had been led down to the orchestra pit.

A third study took yet another approach. Participants were to decide how much hot sauce to give to a participant purportedly taking part in a food-tasting study. Those who were up on the stage gave only half as much of the painfully hot sauce to the other person as did those who were sitting down in the orchestra pit.


I wonder: can the effect really be this large? This seems like too big an effect to be real, although I haven’t read the actual paper yet (http://www.unc.edu/~sanna/ljs11jesp.pdf).   16% contributed to the kettle at the top, 7% at the bottom, and 11% to a control kettle not located near either elevator – a result almost exactly in the middle.  My skeptical comments are a bit unfair because I don’t know these researchers or their work or the literature in this area – it just seems like too big an effect to be credible.

It may just be that the executive floor of the company I work for is on the top floor, and I’m not primed to think of them as any more virtuous than other employees. The legal department is up there, too.