In several previous posts, I have written about issues relating to height. These include the link between a man’s ascribed status and his perceived height, the likelihood of committing suicide as a function of a man’s height, the likelihood of women being taller than their male partners, and the relationship between height and life satisfaction. As a “height challenged” man, I am somewhat discouraged but not surprised by the majority of findings! In today’s post, I continue the height theme by briefly discussing a 2007 paper authored by Steffen R. Giessner and Thomas W. Schubert and published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes wherein they examined the perceived power of a company’s leader as a function of how the organizational chart was drawn (specifically the height of the vertical line from the leader to his subordinates). I thank Dr. Tripat Gill for having brought this paper to my attention (which we might end up citing in one of our ongoing projects).

Across three studies (1a, 1b, 1c), the researchers showed participants a two-level organizational chart wherein they manipulated the length of the vertical line between the leader (level 1) and his/her subordinates at level 2. In one version, the line was short (2 centimeters) whereas in the other it was substantial longer (7 centimeters). Participants also saw a photo of the supposed leader dressed formally, as this increases the mundane realism of the subsequent task, namely to assess the leader's power. The researchers theorized that to the extent that people associate verticality with power, the organizational chart with the longer vertical line would yield higher ratings of power. I should add that in studies 1b and 1c, the authors also manipulated the number of nodes at level 2 (three or five). Furthermore, in study 1c they also measured the leader’s perceived charisma. Only the “vertical length” manipulation was significant across all three studies and solely for the power measure (perceived charisma did not yield any significant effects in study 1c).

Bottom line: The mere fact of manipulating an otherwise irrelevant visual cue (“vertical length”) led to differing evaluations of the leader’s power!

This is but one of innumerable demonstrations of how individuals are hardly as “rational” as we are otherwise led to believe by classical economic theory. To the contrary, countless peripheral if not irrelevant cues can have a profound effect on our perceptions and subsequent choices.

If you wish to learn more about the evolutionary roots of human decision-making, please watch my recent TEDx talk. Finally, please consider following me on Twitter (@GadSaad).

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