Does the experience of gaining altitude cause people to behave less selfishly? David Schroeder in Scientific American profiles a recent study by Professor Larry Sanna of the University of North Carolina:
Building on research showing the power of metaphors to shape our thinking, Sanna and his colleagues noted that height is often used as a metaphor for virtue: moral high ground, God on high, looking up to good people, etc. If people were primed to think about height, they wondered, might people be more virtuous?
In a series of four different studies, the authors found consistent support for their predictions. In the first study they found that twice as many mall shoppers who had just ridden an up escalator contributed to the Salvation Army than shoppers who had just ridden the down escalator. In a second study, participants who had been taken up a short flight of stairs to an auditorium stage to complete a series of questionnaires volunteered more than 50 percent more of their time than participants who had been led down to the orchestra pit.
The link between elevation and virtue, of course, is an ancient idea. It's why universities are so often on hilltops, despite the problems this presents for cycling and often for transit.
But this specific research reminds me of my old post on the difference between end-stations and through-stations, and my visceral dislike of stations that require arriving passengers to go down into tunnels under the platform. I far prefer those, like Melbourne's Southern Cross or Calatrava's Liège Guillemins, where arrival involves climbing an escalator to a bridge-like concourse. The real virtue of those stations, of course, is that you are continuously in the same space throughout the arrival experience, while a conventional through-station is inevitably two different spaces — the train shed and the arrivals hall — connected by tunnels. End-stations, of course, achieve the same thing by not requiring a change of level at all.
My question of Professor Sanna's work would be whether it matters that you are in a continuous space throughout a change of elevation, as you are in the Melbourne and Liège stations, as opposed to being transported from one space into another, as you are in the typical escalator or stair connecting platforms to an underground passage. I get no sensations of elevation when rising from one room into another, whereas I do from climbing within a single large space.
(via Andrew Sullivan)