Study: Physical Environment Influences Likelihood of Dishonest Behavior

New York — June 24

A new study finds that expansive physical settings — having a big desk to stretch out while doing work or a large driver’s seat in an automobile — can cause individuals to feel more powerful, in turn promoting feelings of influence that can elicit more dishonest behavior such as stealing, cheating and even traffic violations.

According to the study from Columbia Business School, while individuals may pay very little attention to ordinary and seemingly innocuous shifts in bodily posture, these subtle postural shifts can have tremendous impact on our thoughts, feelings and behavior.

The research, “The Ergonomics of Dishonesty,” will be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science. It is co-authored by Andy Yap, a former doctoral student at Columbia Business School and currently a visiting professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management; Abbie Wazlawek, a doctoral student at Columbia Business School; Brian Lucas, a doctoral student at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University; Amy Cuddy, a professor at Harvard Business School; and Dana Carney, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

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.

The research 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 tested the ecological validity of the effect by examining whether automobile drivers’ seat size predicted the violation of parking laws in New York City. The field study revealed that automobiles with more expansive driver’s seats were more likely to be illegally parked on New York City streets.

Source: Columbia Business School