Height has long been associated with power. Think about it: the most desirable location in an apartment building is the penthouse. People work their whole lives to snag a corner office on the top floor of a building. It is a phenomenon that at its surface may seem facile, but as it turns out, the link between financial success and height may run far deeper than anyone originally thought.
According to a study published Tuesday by the Society for Consumer Psychology, the elevation of an office building can affect your decision making at work — more specifically, the higher up a person is in a building, the more willing that person is to take financial risks.
A research team lead by Dr. Sina Esteky analyzed data from more than 3,000 international hedge funds whose assets totaled over $500 billion. Researchers correlated the level of volatility of the fund with its location in a building (ranging from the first to the 96th floor). They discovered a slight but significant correlation between increased elevation and the volatility of the fund.
Dr. Etsky and his team also conducted experiments in which subjects were asked to make a betting decision as they were riding either up or down in a glass elevator located in a tall building. Participants who were ascending to the 72nd floor were more likely to choose a risky bet that may result in either a small or significant win. Those who were descending opted for the conservative bet that could result in either a moderate or slightly larger win.
A final experiment involved asking subjects to make ten separate decisions with varying levels of risk and benefit. When individuals involved in this test were either on the ground floor or third floor of a building, the research team once again saw participants on the higher floor more frequently chose riskier options than those on the ground floor.
In an attempt to add some context to these observations, the same subjects were presented with, and asked to complete a set of unfinished words. Researchers discovered those on the third floor were far more likely to create words linked with power than their counterparts on the ground floor. This is believed to (at least in part) explain how elevation affects risk preferences by revealing a noticeable increase in power-related thoughts connected to how high up someone is.
Dr. Esteky hypothesizes the elevation of a building may be a factor to why certain hedge fund managers are willing to take financial risks such as investing in unpredictable cryptocurrencies. Although this particular study looked exclusively at the financial decisions of hedge fund managers and others, Dr. Esteky suggests further research could explore whether the subconscious effect of elevation influences other professionals, namely doctors who are choosing experimental treatments for sick patients. He found people are more willing to try an unfamiliar fruit when they were at a higher elevation in a building in a previous experiment.
But, to what can this phenomenon be attributed? "The brain is very susceptive to subtle situational factors, but also really good at correcting for such effects, so awareness can help us be more rational in our decisions," explains Dr. Esteky. "When you increase elevation, there is a subconscious effect on the sense of power...This heighted feeling of power results in more risk-seeking behavior."
The so-called elevation effect disappeared both when subjects in the study were told floor level indeed affects behavior, and when subjects were not able to see they were on a higher floor level.
Dr. Etseky acknowledges the findings could be concerning for some people, which stands to reason as a seemingly minor factor could influence major life decision. So next time you find yourself lusting after a rose garden over Madison Square, think about the ways the high life might affect your thinking.