Although science is no stranger to weird correlations, the link between desk size and duplicity has gone largely unexplored — until now. New research published in the journal Psychological Science has determined that the physical workplace environment may affect human behavior, particularly the likelihood of dishonesty.

Andy Yap of Columbia Business School and his team have identified a causal link between expansive physical settings and the commission of unlawful, arrogant, and deceitful acts. "In everyday working and living environments, our body postures are incidentally expanded and contracted by our surroundings — by the seats in our cars, the furniture in and around workspaces, even the hallways in our offices - and these environments directly influence the propensity of dishonest behavior in our everyday lives," he said.

The phenomenon, which appears to be rooted in the subconscious equation of power and size, is surprisingly prevalent. The study’s methodology extended the correlation beyond the initial field of inquiry: among the experiments conducted, one found that subjects participating in a video game driving simulation were more likely to “hit and run” when given an expansive driver’s seat. Another part of the study examined parking violations in New York City, and found that cars with larger driver’s seats were more likely to violate parking laws.

The research is in part intended to urge employers to reevaluate the ergonomic environment in the workplace. According to the study, the structural minutiae of the office can have significant bearing on the level of honesty among employees. Physical features that we normally pay very little conscious attention to may have a psychological impact analogous to that of assertive body language, such as an expansive posture. Embedded in the ergonomic properties of the environment, these nonverbal “postures” can exert a subtle, yet powerful, influence on the workers and determine the prevalence of dishonesty among them.

"This is a real concern. Our research shows that office managers should pay attention to the ergonomics of their workspaces. The results suggest that these physical spaces have tangible and real-world impact on our behaviors" said Yap.

While the problem is unlikely to be solved by shrinking offices, cubicles and desks, it is interesting to note that the overall design of the workplace can be a determining factor in terms of performance as well as honesty. Perhaps furniture size may one day be calculated and optimized with the same rigor as lighting and temperature?

Source: Andy J. Yap, Abbie S. Wazlawek, Brian J. Lucas, Amy J. Cuddy, & Dana R. CarneyYap AJ, Wazlawek AS, Lucas BJ, Cuddy AJ, Carney DR. The Ergonomics of Dishonesty: The Effect of Incidental Expansive Posture on Stealing, Cheating and Traffic Violations. Psychological Science. 2013.