Physical Environment, Dishonesty Linked In New 'Embodied Cognition' Research

Sitting in the wrong chair can certainly send you to the chiropractor -- but can it make you a crook? That question's not as far-fetched as you might imagine. Provocative new studies link dishonesty with sprawling on a big chair or at a big desk.

In one experiment involving a driving simulator, people sitting in "expansive" seats were more likely to drive recklessly and conduct more "hit and runs" -- compared to people sitting in smaller, more "contractive" seats (see picture below).

big desk dishonesty

And that's not at all. In related experiments, people standing in "expansive poses" were more likely to accept money they weren't owed. People working at a large desk space were more likely to cheat on a puzzle completion task than those who had less work space.

big desk dishonesty

Why does this happen? It all boils down to a sense of power, which can be heightened by "expansive" posture, according to previous research. In turn, this powerful feeling can lead to dishonest acts.

"Power causes you to focus on rewards and take risks to achieve those gains," Dr. Andy Yap, postdoctoral associate and visiting assistant professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, told The Huffington Post in an email. "If you hang a carrot in front of a powerful person (assuming they like carrots), they will act on it, take risks, or cheat and do whatever it takes to get it."

This research is part of an emerging psychology field called embodied cognition. "Every day, our bodies are continually stretched and contracted by our working and living environments," said Dr. Yap. "We may pay very little attention to such ordinary and seemingly innocuous shifts in bodily posture, but they can have a tremendous impact on our thoughts, feelings and behavior."

What are other surprising examples of this? Holding a warm cup of coffee can make people more generous. Smiling can reduce stress and actually make you feel happier.

The study is scheduled to be published in a forthcoming edition of Psychological Science. Read the full paper here.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post misstated one of the results of the study as saying that people standing in a contracted position -- corrected to expansive -- were less likely to take money they weren't owed.



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