Size matters

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Bar room jokes aside there are several interesting studies on the impact that size has on the way we perceive people and the way they behave.

Study 1.

single_colored_chair_rotating_anim_500_wht_10055Andy Yapp, at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, examined the impact of ergonomics on people’s ethics.

They wanted to know whether or not your workspace would have an effect on your honesty.

What they found was that the bigger and larger the space and seating, which encouraged expansive gestures, the more likely it was that people would pocket overpayments, cheat on a test, and break the rules in a driving simulator.

In the first test they deliberately overpaid people for participating in the test and found that 78% of those with the bigger chairs kept it compared with 38% of people working in cramped spaces.

They also observed illegally parked cars in New York and found that when a driver’s seat increased by 1 standard deviation from the mean the probability that a car would be double parked increased from 51% to 71%.

The researchers say that when we have more space we can adopt more expansive postures and these often project high power whereas people working in constrictive spaces where they have to keep their limbs close to their bodies project low power.

The findings were not influenced by the height of the person nor by how corrupt the person might have been before the experiment as they were randomly assigned. The posture was the only variable.

This is interesting as I would have thought that people working in constricted or uncomfortable environments might be likely to cheat just to get back at their employer – a kind of organisational justice.

But we also know that power corrupts.

Yapp and his colleagues admit there might be cultural differences e.g. Asian norms of modesty and humility are inconsistent with the power posturing.

The research replicates that done at Columbia University (see below)  on the size of desks (and illegal parking in New York).

Main source: “Big chairs create big cheats” HBR November 2013

Study 2.

fountain_pen_writing_ink_1600_wht_11648Companies led by CEOs who have large signatures – an indicator of narcissism – perform worse than ones led by CEOs with small signatures.

Researchers at the Robert H Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland measured the signatures of 650 CEOs on 10 years’ worth of annual reports from almost 400 top 500 companies.

Large signatures, which have been linked to narcissistic personality traits such as dominance and an outsize ego, were positively associated with overspending, lower return on assets, but higher CEO pay relative to other industry peers.

The companies of these CEOs spend more on capital goods and acquisitions but had worse sales and sales growth over several years. They also had fewer patents suggesting a lack of innovation.

This is probably because narcissistic leaders dominate discussions, ignore criticism and belittle other employees.

The assumption about big signatures and narcissism is based on research by Richard Zweigenhaft which showed that people with higher self-esteem and more dominant personalities had large signatures.

It’s also the case that the CEO population is more narcissistic than the general population as well as having other dark triad characteristics.

Source: HBR May 2013

Study 3.

businessman_relax_desk_1600_wht_5638And size matters when it comes to honesty at work and in other settings.

Researchers at Columbia Business School think sprawling across an over-size desk makes people feel more self-confident and more likely to behave dishonestly to further their careers.

The researchers manipulated the size of workspaces and found that people were more dishonest on tests when their environment allowed them to stretch out.

In another study they found that drivers given bigger car seats were more likely to be involved in “hit and run” incidents when incentivised to go faster in a driving simulation.

They also checked 126 cars on New York City streets, half of which were parked illegally. They found that drivers with large car seats were more likely to be breaking the law.

Study 4.

figure_looking_observing_500_wht_13769When it comes to impressing potential partners, size really does matter.

Research conducted for Brother Europe, when it was promoting its new A3 printer range across Europe, seems to prove that.

Professor Richard Wiseman, a leading human behaviour psychologist and author of; “:59 seconds. Think a little Change a lot”, carried out the research and he found that in “Dragons’ Den-style” pitch scenarios, businesses using A3 marketing materials appeared ‘significantly bigger, more successful and professional’ than those using standard A4 prints.

Moving from size to weight, in a paper published by researchers at MIT, Harvard and Yale universities; “Incidental haptic sensations influence social judgements and decisions” it appears that our sense of touch (the haptic impressions) also influences our thoughts.

They asked people to scrutinise a job candidate by looking at a resume (CV) placed on either heavy or light clipboards. The people using heavy clipboards viewed the candidate as possessing a more serious interest in the job and as more likely to succeed than those holding a light clipboard. They conclude that; “First impressions are liable to be influenced by one’s tactile environment”.

They say that understanding how the tactile environment influences perception could be relevant in; “almost any situation where you are trying to present information about yourself or attempting to influence people“.

My colleague and I have always advised candidates to use heavy-duty paper for their CVs and covering letters rather than 70/80 gm supermarket special photocopy paper. This was based on creating a good impression (because first impressions count) but now it seems it’s not just how good it looks but how heavy.

As the researchers say; “physical experiences are mentally tied to metaphors …. when you activate something physically it starts up the metaphor related to that experience in people’s heads” eg heavy = solid, reliable, serious, and so on.”

And next time someone puts a clipboard into my hands ….


These posts appeared separately on SGANDA previously


Moral Judgements

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angel_devil_tug_war_1600_wht_6266A study published in 2011  by Caruso & Gino in Cognition found that the simple act of closing your eyes has a significant effect on your moral judgement and behaviour.

Subjects, who thought they were testing earphones, listened to hypothetical scenarios relating to overcharging, nepotistic decisions, and the rules of a financial game.

Those who were asked to listen with their eyes closed judged the scenarios as more unethical and were fairer in the financial game. A similar effect was found with those who had their eyes open if they were specifically asked to visualise the scenarios as vividly as possible.

The researchers think that we simulate scenarios more vividly when we have our eyes closed which triggers more intense emotions.

To test this in a further experiment where the subjects were specifically asked to visualise a situation as vividly as possible there was no difference between the eyes open and eyes closed groups.

There was no evidence that closed eyed participants paid more attention. The main difference appeared to be that the eyes-closed subjects experienced more negative, guilt-based emotions.

The authors think that; ” As a result … people may be more sensitive to the ethical nature of their own and others’ decisions, and perhaps behave more honestly as a result”.

So closing your eyes helps you to simulate the decision you want to make more extensively and experience its emotional components more vividly. In turn that may make you more sensitive to the ethics involved in your decision and keep you more honest. Perhaps that’s why the statue of Justice is blindfolded?

I wonder what results you would get with blind subjects? Are blind people more honest than sighted people?

FYI Moral judgements are open to a number of influences as set out in my previous post.


Creativity, fear, and dishonesty

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One of my favourite blogs – Psyblog – recently posted on why people secretly fear creative ideas.

It seems we say we value creativity but don’t really want it. Teachers apparently don’t like creative kids – they are probably too disruptive and not good at following rules.

In organisations leaders say they want creative ideas – and then stick to the tried and tested.

I’ve seen creative people promoted only to find that they then have other priorities so they get frustrated and end up losing their credibility when they succumb to their dark side and their ideas are seen as totally unrealistic.

Experiments by Mueller and colleagues using implicit attitude tests showed that when people are uncertain they think negatively about creative ideas and found it harder to recognise them. This shows that people may dislike creative ideas because they increase uncertainty and that’s not a state we enjoy.

But of course being creative requires just that – doing something that hasn’t been done before or doing something in a different way.

Research elsewhere into the links between creativity and the Big 5 personality factors confirmed that openness and extraversion were significantly related to creativity, but agreeableness had no effect. However they found that people with higher levels of arrogance and pretentiousness also reported more creative accomplishments and being engaged in more creative activities.

So other researchers then explored the connections between creativity and dishonesty.

In a series of experiments reported in Psychology Today they found that people reporting higher creativity were more likely to take advantage of ambiguous situations to cheat. This was nothing to do with intelligence; there were no links between intelligence and creativity nor between intelligence and dishonesty. In fact creativity was a better predictor of dishonesty than intelligence.

People with a more creative mindset were more motivated to think “outside the box” and this is what led to increased levels of dishonesty. In experiments within real organisations they found that people working in what were considered more creative departments or in jobs in which they were expected to be creative, were more likely to act unethically when asked to make decisions on a range of scenarios.

The research actually showed that creativity causes dishonesty. The researchers think that “creativity helps people to develop original ways to bypass moral rules …. to reinterpret information in self-serving ways as they attempt to justify their immoral actions”.

It makes you wonder about creative entrepreneurs who may be less inclined than the rest of us to follow rules which they regard as meaningless red tape eg paying VAT! Or think of Richard Branson’s early days selling vinyl records out of telephone boxes.

The researchers also caution that although the findings are statistically significant they are only trends and there are many creative people who are not dishonest.