It all has to do with a phenomenon known as "mental construal," which basically refers to "where one's head is at." A person in a higher-level state of mental construal makes decisions based on questions of "why," while lower-level mental construal focuses on the immediate logistics of "how." (Credit: chris riebschlager/Flickr)

How tall you stand changes how you make decisions

You may benefit by staying on your feet to ponder abstract questions and by sitting down to tackle pragmatic matters, new research suggests.

The study reveals that when test subjects believe they are physically higher up—on a tall stool or a top floor—they are more likely to consider a “big-picture” approach to a decision.

“It may be more effective for stores located on a higher level of a mall to promote rich features, superior functions, or performance of their products,” says Pankaj Aggarwal, University of Toronto Scarborough and Rotman School of Management marketing professor. “It may be more effective for stores on a lower level to promote feasibility aspects such as high convenience or ease of usage for their products.”

‘Mental construal’

It all has to do with a phenomenon known as “mental construal,” which basically refers to “where one’s head is at” when making a decision. A person in a higher-level state of mental construal makes decisions based on questions of “why,” while lower-level mental construal focuses on the immediate logistics of “how.”

It’s the difference between “Why do I need a new desk?” and “How am I going to get this thing set up in my office?”

Over the course of six studies—including subjects sitting at different heights, being told they were on different floors of a building, and even doing a word search containing either the word “high” or “low”—Aggarwal and colleague Min Zhao found that perceived physical height directly affected whether test subjects took a metaphorical “50,000-foot view” or “street level” approach to decisions.

Their results, published in the Journal of Marketing Research, tally with a wide body of research that demonstrates correlations between physical distance and mental distance, and even physical warmth and mental warmth.

“Physical concepts get translated into more high-level mental concepts. Our studies have so far been more conceptual and theoretical in the lab,” says Aggarwal.

But he already sees very practical possibilities for this research. “Maybe at the grocery store the chocolates and the candies should be on the lower floor, but all the healthy green veggies should be on the higher.”

Source: University of Toronto

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