Big Cars And Big Desks Might Make You More Likely To Behave Dishonestly

In a widely popular TED talk, Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy explained that people who take expansive, stretched-out poses feel more confident and powerful, especially compared to those with hunched, constricted postures.

But what about people who naturally spend their time in expansive postures or environments? It turns out that they too, feel more powerful.

In a recent paper titled “The Ergonomics of Dishonesty” published by Cuddy, MIT’s Andy Yap, Columbia’s Abbie Wazlawek, Northwestern’s Brian Lucas, and Berkeley’s Dana Carney found that people who take expansive postures, either on purpose or as a part of their environment, were more likely to steal money, cheat on a test, and commit traffic violations in a driving simulation.

Those forced to reach for materials in an expansive desk during a task cheated more than those kept more constrained by keeping all of their materials at arm’s reach on a smaller pad. 

Here’s the paper’s figure on an expansive versus constricting desk space:

Amy Cuddy et al.Even the size of a car seat had an effect on behaviour during a driving simulation:

Cuddy et al. 

Those in the larger seat were more likely to drive recklessly, and exhibit more “hit and run behaviour.”

To look at the problem outside the lab, the researchers went literally to the streets. They took a look at the expansiveness of seats in double parked cars in New York. Those with more space were more likely to double park, even when the “status” and length of the cars were controlled for. 

This doesn’t mean you should instantly distrust the guy with the battleship of a desk who drives a Hummer. Increased feelings of power have positive effects in some cases, depending on context.  

Still, it’s another piece of research to add to the increasingly scientific design of workplaces and offices. Zappos deliberately restricted the amount of space in its new Las Vegas offices to increase employee interaction. They might be onto something. 

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