RESEARCH SUMMARY DETAIL

Psychological Impact of Ceiling Height in Retail Spaces

Author's Title: The Influence of Ceiling Height: The Effect of Priming on the Type of Processing That People Use
Author(s) Name: Joan Meyers-Levy and Rui (Juliet) Zhu
Year of Publication: 2007
Search Related Keywords: Aesthetics  Canada  Ceilings  Cognition/Perception  Guest/Shopper  Preference/Attitude  Retail/Store Planning  Spatial Composition and Articulation 

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Design Issue
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Three experiments investigated the effects of high (10 ft) and low (8 ft) ceiling height on individuals’ notions of freedom versus confinement and whether such effects influenced information processing.


  • Ceiling height is believed to affect a consumer’s experience of the retail environment; however, to date there is no theory and little empirical research that explains how, when, or why this may be true.
  • Understanding whether notions of freedom and/or confinement are prompted by differences in ceiling height may aid in determining whether they influence consumers’ information processing, possibly leading to an understanding of how consumers categorize and evaluate products.
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Design Criteria
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Author Identified:
  • Recognize that salient (i.e., occupants are aware of the ceiling due to strategies that draw attention to it) ceiling height may influence the way consumers process information:
    • Higher ceilings may elicit notions of freedom that leads to abstract relational processing (viewing data in a cohesive, interdependent manner).
    • Lower ceilings may elicit notions of confinement that lead to concrete, item-specific processing (viewing data in a detailed, independent manner).
  • Design retail spaces with high ceilings when consumers are required to think of products in non-traditional, more creative ways to fully understand them (e.g., abstract art). Design spaces with low ceilings when consumers are required to think in item-specific, detailed ways, to fully understand the product.
  • Place advertisements that require relational processing in high ceiling rooms (e.g., ad of a nurse feeding a disembodied engine motor oil) and advertisements that require item-specific processing in low ceiling rooms (e.g., ad disclaimers in small type).

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Key Concepts
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  • Ceiling height affected subjects’ subconscious perception of the environment and therefore, the information processing method they used.
  • In experiment 1, subjects in the high ceiling room were more likely to report feeling a sense of freedom than those in the low ceiling room, indicating that when salient (i.e., subjects were made aware of ceiling height), higher ceilings may activate notions of freedom, while lower ceilings may prompt notions of confinement. Similarly, subjects in the high ceiling rooms completed freedom-related anagrams more quickly and confinement-related anagrams more slowly than those in the low ceiling rooms.
  • In experiment 2, the salient high ceiling height (10 ft) prompted subjects to analyze information in abstract and integrated ways (relational processing), while salient low ceiling height prompted subjects to analyze  information in a more concrete, item-by-item manner (item-specific processing). In the salient high ceiling rooms, subjects evaluated products (i.e., a coffee table and wine rack) as more sleek, but did not note crude features, indicating that they processed product characteristics using relational processing. subjects in the salient low ceiling rooms noticed the products’ crude features, indicating item-specific processing (noted specific features of products). Differences in processing strategies only emerged when ceiling height was salient.
  • In experiment 3, subjects in high ceiling rooms were more successful at the free recall task (relational processing) compared to those in the low ceiling rooms. subjects in the low ceiling rooms were more successful at the cued recall task (item-specific processing). subjects in high ceiling rooms reported greater notions of freedom while those in the low ceiling room reported greater notions of confinement. Further analysis indicated low versus high salient ceiling height influenced notions of confinement versus freedom, which in turn influenced whether subjects performed better on tasks requiring item-specific versus relational processing.
  • Additional research conducted demonstrated that neither subjects’ mood, preference for different ceiling heights, nor feelings of being encroached on by the lanterns hung in the workspace (to create salient conditions) affected the type of processing used or notions of freedom vs. confinement.
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Research Method
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  • In experiment 1, subjects (30; college students) were placed individually in one of four identical rooms, with the exception of ceiling height. Chinese lanterns were hung from the ceiling to make the ceiling height salient. subjects were left in the room alone for one minute to become aware of their surroundings. subjects were given two tasks based on previous research (Aarts & Dijksterhuis, 2003) to complete on the computer. For the first task, subjects indicated on a 7-point scale the degree to which freedom-related terms (3; free, unrestricted, and open) or confinement-related terms (3; encumbered, inhibited, and confined) most accurately reflected their body state. For the second task, subjects completed 12 anagrams, relating to the concept of freedom (3; liberated, unlimited, and emancipated), to the concept of confinement (3; bound, restrained, and restricted), and to words that did not relate to either concept (6; e.g., radio, lunch, violin). subjects’ response times were recorded in milliseconds. subjects were paid $5.00 for their participation. descriptive statistics and ANOVA were used to analyze the data.
  • In experiment 2, subjects (100; college students) were placed individually in one of four identical rooms, with the exception of ceiling height and saliency (10 foot ceiling, salient; 10 ft ceiling, non-salient; 8 ft ceiling, salient; 8 ft ceiling; non-salient). Chinese lanterns were suspended from the ceiling (i.e., salient conditions) or suspended at eye level and on the floor (i.e., non-salient conditions). subjects were left alone in the room for one minute prior to the experiment and then completed two tasks on the computer. For the first task, subjects were given a list of items (10; sports-related; e.g., swimming, fishing, soccer, cycling) and asked to identify elements shared by the items (e.g., equipment needed for the sport), categorize items into sub-groups, and give descriptive labels for each group. For the second task, subjects reported their responses to photographs of a coffee table and wine rack, which both had a sleek design but relatively crude features on a 7-point scale (rough/sleek, crude/polished, coarse/refined, and organic/cultivated design). descriptive statistics, Semin and Fielder linguistic category model (Semin & Fielder, 1989, 1991) and ANOVA were used to analyze the data.
  • In experiment 3, subjects (34; college students) were placed individually in a high or low ceiling room, with lanterns suspended from the ceiling (salient). subjects were left alone in the room for one minute before the experiment began. subjects rated their body state on the same scale as used in experiment 1. subjects then reviewed a list of 36 multi-category items, and then completed filler tasks to clear their memories. subjects then completed a free recall task, recalling as many of the 36 items as they could. This was followed by a cued-recall task in which subjects were given a list of categories related to the 36 items and asked to recall all items from the list and place each below its proper category. descriptive statistics, adjusted ratio of clustering and Mediation analyses were used to analyze the data.
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Limitations
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  • Room volume fluctuated with ceiling height, potentially influencing the findings.
  • Findings may not be generalizable to extremely high and low ceiling heights.
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Commentary
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A table explaining the relationship between ceiling height and processing types, tables of results, and photographs of the different rooms were included. Future research on ceiling heights in larger spaces was recommended.



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Adapted From
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Author(s): Joan Meyers-Levy, professor, marketing, Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; and Rui (Juliet) Zhu, assistant professor of marketing, Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
Article Title: The Influence of Ceiling Height: The Effect of Priming on the Type of Processing That People Use
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication: Journal of Consumer Research
Publication Type: Refereed Journal
Date of Publication: 2007
Funder/Sponsor: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
ISSN: 0093-5301
Volume: 34
Issue: 2
Pages: 174-186