New research from UBC’s Sauder School of Business shows that seating arrangements can have a major impact on the way people think.

The study shows that people sitting in a circular formation are more likely to want to ‘belong’ to a group and are less prone to be antagonistic.

People seated in an angular arrangement – i.e. “The Boardroom” in Donald Trump’s The Apprentice – are more likely to look out for number one. 

“The geometric shape of a seating arrangement can act as a subtle environmental cue for people, by priming their fundamental need for inclusiveness or individuality,” says Sauder Assistant Professor Juliet Zhu, who co-authored the forthcoming study to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

In a series of experiments for the study, volunteers were asked to sit in either circular or angular seating plans and were then asked to evaluate advertisements.

They found that those sitting in a circle or oval reacted more favourably towards ads that conveyed a sense of belonging, showing groups of family members or friends.

In contrast, participants seated in rectangular formations identified more with ads portraying go-getting individuals – “maverick” types.

Zhu added: “Seating arrangements can potentially influence people in a variety of situations, whether they are at work or at a big family gathering, or in consumer setting such as restaurants, hotel lobbies, airports, or on public transit.”

When it comes to the retail environment, Zhu explained that the shape of a seating arrangement can activate fundamental human needs that affect consumer responses. She says managers should be aware of this and plan their environments accordingly.

The study, “The Geometry of Persuasion: How Do Seating Layouts Influence Consumers, was co-authored by Assistant Professor of Marketing, Rui Juliet Zhu from the Sauder School of Business and Professor of Marketing, Jennifer J. Argo from the University of Alberta.