Higher Ceilings May Raise the Roof on Free Thinking


It should come as no surprise that homebuyers prefer houses with high ceilings—there's just something our brains like about extra space. As it turns out, there's some serious psychology behind the human preference for pitched roofs, and it's kind of fascinating. Studies examining the effect high ceilings have on a room's inhabitants suggest that ceiling design can actually encourage creative thought. 

A few years back, marketing experts Joan Meyers and Rui Zhu devised a study that took place in rooms with adjustable ceilings. Each room could be rigged to have eight-foot ceilings or 10-foot ceilings. Participants were given anagram tests focusing on words like "liberated" and "unlimited." It was discovered that the test subjects in rooms with higher ceilings completed the tests more quickly than those in rooms with low ceilings. When the scenario was reversed, and words like "bound" and "restricted were used, participants in the rooms with lower ceilings did better. Go figure.

Recently, neuroscientist Oshin Vartanian conducted a test in which he asked subjects to look at scans of 200 rooms while connected to a machine that scanned their brains. Half of the photos featured images of rooms with high ceilings, while half featured pictures of low ceilings. Test subjects were simply asked to indicate whether they thought the room beautiful or not. The study found that participants were more likely to judge high-ceilinged rooms more beautiful. Brain scans taken of the subjects showed increased activity in the centers of the brain associated with visuospatial exploration and spatial navigation. Vartanian concluded that high ceilings stimulate human desire to engage and explore our surroundings, adding that science may be closer to understanding what motivates a person when purchasing real estate.

"Knowing that people's preferences for rooms with higher ceilings might be driven by the ability of those spaces to promote visuospatial exploration helps partly explain why people opt to live in such spaces, despite the fact that they cost more to purchase and maintain," he said.