The influence the design and layout of the workplace can have on productivity is widely acknowledged. Now, according to a new scientific study expansive physical settings like having a big desk to stretch out at work can cause individuals to feel more powerful, and in turn these feelings of power can elicit more dishonest behaviour such as stealing, cheating, and traffic violations. This might sound far-fetched but The Ergonomics of Dishonesty was written by a group of researchers at leading business schools, including Harvard, Columbia and Berkeley and is soon to be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science. Co-author Andy Yap, explained: “Our research shows that office managers should pay attention to the ergonomics of their workspaces. The results suggest that these physical spaces have tangible and real-world impact on our behaviours.”
The study states that 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 behaviour. Building on previous research that expansive postures can lead to a state of power, and power can lead to dishonest behaviour, the study found that expanded, nonverbal postures forced upon individuals by their environments could influence decisions and behaviours in ways that render people less honest.
“In everyday working and living environments, our body postures are incidentally expanded and contracted by our surroundings — by the seats in our cars, the furniture in and around workspaces, even the hallways in our offices — and these environments directly influence the propensity of dishonest behaviour in our everyday lives,” explained Yapp.
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.
The research, entitled 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 PhD student at Columbia Business School and currently a visiting professor at MIT Sloan School of Management; Abbie Wazlawek, a PhD student at Columbia Business School; Brian Lucas, a PhD student at Kellogg School of Management; Amy Cuddy, a professor at Harvard Business School; and Dana Carney, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.