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Can Office Ergonomics Lead to Bad Behavior?

Researchers from top business schools studied the impact that work settings have on dishonest behavior.

A new study suggests that large office chairs and roomy desks can lead workers to behave badly.

Before you roll your eyes, keep reading. 

Researchers from Columbia, MIT, Northwestern, Harvard and UC Berkeley examined whether certain body postures imposed by ergonomic design had any impact on individuals’ behaviors. 

The authors found that individuals in expansive physical settings reported that they felt powerful. This sentiment was the common link between those in an expansive physical setting who also exhibited dishonest behaviors such as stealing, cheating, and violating traffic laws. 

One part of the study involved looking at illegally parked cars on New York City streets. Cars with large driver’s seats were more likely to be in violation of parking laws. Another experiment manipulated lab workspaces and found that expanded body postures led more participants to cheat on tests. 

"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,” MIT Postdoctoral Associate and Lecturer Andy Yap said. Yap spearheaded the study during his time at Columbia Business School.

The study makes the case that though individuals don’t usually pay attention to subtle postural changes, these shifts often have an influence over our thoughts, feelings, and actions. 

Last updated: Oct 10, 2013

LAURA MONTINI | Staff Writer

Laura Montini is a reporter at Inc. She previously covered health care technology for Health 2.0 News and has served as an associate editor at The Health Care Blog. She lives in San Francisco.

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