Ceiling height influences thought process

Vadim Lavrusik

University researchers found that taller isn’t always better; really, it depends.

Joan Meyers-Levy, a marketing professor, completed a study on the impact ceiling heights have on the way people think, feel and act.

Meyers-Levy and co-author Juliet Zhu, an assistant professor of marketing at the Sauder School of Business in British

Columbia, found that higher ceilings complement abstract and creative thinking, while rooms with lower ceilings focus a person’s attention and abilities on the details of the task at hand.

The findings, which will be published in the August issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, will potentially be used by architects in designs of homes, offices and retail stores. It could also encourage further research on how space affects people’s health and safety.

Meyers-Levy said she came by the study’s concept serendipitously. She said she got the idea while waiting to board a plane at an airport, thinking about how the space affected her mood.

She wanted to apply it to marketing and consumers, she said. For example, she wanted to see if the ceiling height would affect a person’s perception of a product on display in a retail store.

The research, which began about two years ago, consisted of about five separate experiments, with 40 to 50

students participating in each. Participants were asked to complete different kinds of tasks, such as fitting together anagrams or testing attention to detail. Some tasks required more focus on detail and others relied on abstract thinking.

When placed in a room with a higher ceiling, students asked to perform tasks that required more abstract thought performed them faster, Meyers-Levy said.

She hopes this will encourage other research in how space or ceiling height affects health, she said.

She hypothesizes an operating room with a lower ceiling would be more beneficial to surgeons because it focuses their attention on details. Recovering patients could potentially recuperate faster in a room with taller ceilings because they aren’t as focused on their condition or ailment, she said.

Designers emphasize emotions, feelings and performance in their designs of objects.

James Boyd-Brent, a professor in the College of Design, said that designers are moving in a direction of not only thinking of usefulness or aesthetics, but how the object will affect a person emotionally.

“The idea of designing something so that an object creates an emotional response with the person who’s going to use it is actually the key to a lot of contemporary design,” Boyd-Brent said.

He said the study makes sense. As the influences of space on psychology trend progresses, he thinks people will see changes in office designs, he said.

“There is definitely increasing awareness of how it is that the spaces we occupy really do affect our mental and spiritual and psychological state,” he said.

But with higher ceilings you are losing space to build more units or floors, he said.

Some realtors are finding a greater demand for higher ceilings, too.

Jeff Lundquist, a realtor with Keller Williams Realty, said a lot of people no longer buy older homes that have low ceilings.

“It affects its ability to sell,” Lundquist said.

The conversion of warehouses into condominiums is a trend in the Twin Cities, because people like the tall ceilings the units have, he said.

“A lot of the buyers are after higher ceilings and like open floor plans,” he said.