People become more virtuous when positioned higher: study

Last Updated: Jan 13, 2011, 16:54 PM IST

London: The metaphors such as the `moral high ground` do really exist, say scientists as they found that people become more generous, compassionate and helpful when they are physically higher than others.

The link between height and morality may sound unlikely, but researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that the association affects how people behave when they become physically or mentally elevated.

In the first of a series of bizarre experiments, the researchers led by Lawrence Sanna found that commuters gave more money to a charity collector at the top of an escalator than one at the bottom.

In another, volunteers were found to be more generous with their time if standing on a higher spot than others.

And in a third, people were less likely to inflict punishment on another person if they had just ascended steps -- and were crueller if they had gone down stairs, the Daily Mail reported.

People talk about putting other people on pedestals, looking up to those they admire or taking the moral high ground.

They also talk about sinking to new depths, scraping the barrel and looking down on people.

Dr Sanna believes that the use of metaphors linking height with good behaviour affects how people behave in real life.

Speaking about the escalator experiment, Dr Sanna told New Scientist magazine: "Shoppers who rode up the escalator contributed more often than those who rode down.

"Experiencing elevated physical height increased the virtuous act of making real charitable contributions."

In another experiment, about 60 volunteers were asked to allocate an amount of hot chili sauce to be eaten by a fictitious stranger whom they were told disliked hot food.

Those who had been taken up to a stage dished out less than half the amount than those who had been taken down to an orchestra pit.

The findings don`t just have implications for charities, said the researchers. It is thought that bosses might boost the helpfulness of their staff by holding meetings on the top floor of an office block -- and that people should invite friends upstairs before asking for a favour.

PTI