People apparently take the idea of the heights of power literally. So says a group of researchers who found that being on the higher floors of a building tends to make people feel more powerful-which may lead them to take bigger financial risks. “We know that people who are taller take more risks, and we have a sense that people who are risk takers gravitate toward high-elevation activities like skydiving, but I wanted to understand if the reverse is true in a controlled environment,” says Sina Esteky, an assistant professor of marketing at the Farmer School of Business at Miami University in Ohio, and the lead researcher for the recent paper published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. In the second study, a research assistant entered a glass elevator in a 73-story building with a stranger going all the way up or all the way down, and offered each person a choice: invest in a safer lottery with a 50-50 chance of winning $50 or $100, or in a riskier lottery with a 50-50 chance of winning either $20 or $130. “We found that people who were going up were twice as likely to choose the riskier lottery,” Dr. Esteky says. A similar study Dr. Esteky conducted at a business school compared people on the ground floor versus the mezzanine level of the building and found that being even two floors off the ground led people to take more risks. Dr. Esteky sees a few practical applications for his research, which builds on previous studies demonstrating that people associate elevation with power and that a sense of power increases risk taking. “If you have that many people working on the 70th floor, that is going to impact society long term,” Dr. Esteky says, adding that the affect would be subtle and nuanced but ubiquitous nonetheless.
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