Research from Sauder prof. Rui Juliet Zhu finds that ceiling height can affect how a person thinks, feels, and acts


VANCOUVER, BC – For years contractors, real estate agents and event planners have said that whether building, buying or planning an event, a higher or vaulted ceiling is always better. Are they right? Until now there has been no real evidence that ceiling height has any influence or advantage with consumers. But recent research by Rui Juliet Zhu, assistant professor of marketing at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia, suggests that the way people think and act is affected by ceiling height.

Zhu and co-author Joan Meyers-Levy, a professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, found that, depending on the situation, ceiling height will benefit or impair consumer responses. The paper “The Influence of Ceiling Height: The Effect of Priming on the Type of Processing People Use,” will be published in the August issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

“When a person is in a high ceiling environment, they are going to process information in a more abstract, creative fashion,” says Zhu. “Those inside a room with relatively lower ceilings will process in a much more concrete, detail-oriented fashion.”

The research demonstrates that variations in ceiling height can evoke concepts that, in turn, affect how consumers process information. The authors theorized that when reasonably salient, a higher versus a lower ceiling can stimulate the concepts of freedom versus confinement, respectively. This causes people to engage in either more free-form, abstract thinking or more detail-specific thought. Thus, depending on what the task at hand requires, the consequences of the ceiling could be positive or negative.

“Depending on the activity or the desired outcome, ceiling height can make a big difference in how the consumer processes the information presented,” says Meyers-Levy.

This work has important implications for retailers of all types who are faced with consumers whose thought processes might influence what products they buy, how they process point-of-purchase information and even sales persuasion strategies.

According to Zhu, sporting good retailers that promote experiential processing environments (such as rock-climbing walls) might want a higher ceiling, so that customers focus on an overall, and more holistic experience.

Conversely, she says, if the retailer want customers to focus on the specific attributes of a product, such as a new benefit of certain medicine, then a lower-ceiling would be more helpful.

“Besides marketing, this research also has implications in other domains, such as health care,” say Zhu. “A higher ceiling in hospital rooms might be beneficial to quick recovery, as patients might focus less on just their own sickness and internal sensations, whereas a relatively low ceiling might be helpful in operating rooms as that might help doctors to better focus on the details of the surgery.”

For more information, contact:

Derek Moscato 
Sauder School of Business
Tel: 604-822-8345
Cell: 604-306-7137

Leanna Yip 
Director, Marketing and Communications
Sauder School of Business
Tel: 604-822-0229
Cell: 604-616-0400