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Can bigger desks make us dishonest?

COLUMBIA (US) — Having a large workspace or a big driver’s seat in a car can make people feel more powerful, which can lead to dishonest behaviors.

“In everyday working and living environments, our body postures are incidentally expanded and contracted by our surroundings—by the seats in our cars, the furniture in and around workspaces, even the hallways in our offices—and these environments directly influence the propensity of dishonest behavior in our everyday lives,” says Andy Yap, who conducted the research as a PhD student at Columbia University.


Building on previous research that expansive postures can lead to a state of power, and power can lead to dishonest behavior, the study found that expanded, nonverbal postures forced upon individuals by their environments could influence decisions and behaviors in ways that render people less honest, Yap says.

“This is a real concern. Our research shows that office managers should pay attention to the ergonomics of their workspaces. The results suggest that these physical spaces have tangible and real-world impact on our behaviors.”

The research, to be published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science, includes findings from four studies conducted in the field and the laboratory. One study manipulated the expansiveness of workspaces in the lab and tested whether “incidentally” expanded bodies (shaped organically by one’s environment) led to more dishonesty on a test.

Another experiment examined if participants in a more expansive driver’s seat would be more likely to “hit and run” when incentivized to go fast in a video–game driving simulation.

To extend results to a real–world context, an observational field study that tested the ecological validity of the effect by examining whether automobile drivers’ seat size predicted the violation of parking laws in New York City, revealed that automobiles with more expansive driver’s seats were more likely to be illegally parked on New York City streets.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard University contributed to the study.

Source: Columbia University

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