Building on research showing the power of metaphors to shape our thinking, Sanna and his colleagues noted that height is often used as a metaphor for virtue: moral high ground, God on high, looking up to good people, etc. 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 upa 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.
In a final study, participants watched film clips of scenes taken from an airplane above the clouds, or through the window of a passenger car. Participants who had watched the clip of flying up above the clouds were 50 percent more cooperative in a computer game than those who had watched the car ride down on the ground.
Overall these studies show remarkable consistency, linking height and different prosocial behaviors — i.e., donations, volunteering, compassion, and cooperation.
The logical conclusion about where to locate our polling stations at election time is impeccable I think 🙂