London: Scientists have discovered that people become more generous, compassionate and helpful when they are physically higher than others – an indication that metaphors such as ‘moral high ground’ really do exist.
The link between height and morality may sound unlikely, but psychologists at the University of North Carolina say there are plenty of clues linking the two from everyday language, reports a daily.
Lead researcher Lawrence Sanna and his team carried out four experiments to find out how these associations affect people’s behaviour when they become physically elevated.
In the first of a series of bizarre experiments, they 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.
In another experiment, 60 volunteers were asked to allocate an amount of hot chilli 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.
Researchers found that 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.
“Shoppers who rode the up escalator contributed more often than those who rode down,” Sanna told New Scientist magazine while speaking about the escalator experiment.
“Experiencing elevated physical height increased the virtuous act of making real charitable contributions,” he added.
The findings don’t just have implications for charities, said the researchers.
It is thought bosses might boost helpfulness of their staff by holding meetings on the top floor of an office and people should invite friends upstairs before asking for a favour.