Up In The Air

Generations of kids, both human and goat, play climbing games to occupy the high point on the mound. The understanding that occupying the high ground gives one an advantage is genetically coded into us, so that we can skip over that part when studying Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.” Occupying ‘the moral high ground’ is also something that we all rush to do, whether or not it can be validated.

But it seems that being elevated actually makes us more virtuous. Sanna and his colleagues from several US Universities has just published a paper (1), which gives experimental confirmation of this. Studying the results is well worth our time and enjoyment, especially as the experiments were conducted on that strange animal, the ‘mall shopper’.

Charitable giving was found to be elevated when donors were ascending the escalators from the upper reaches of shopping heaven, compared to those who were emerging into the light from the bowels of store below. The difference was a factor of two, and this was Christmas!

A group of participants were either taken up steps onto a stage or down into the orchestra pit and then asked to help with a task. Those who climbed up, stayed helping almost twice as long as those who went down.

The famed ‘Hot Sauce Test,’ my favorite, was utilized to measure compassion handed down or up. In this experiment, a very hot sauce mixture is doled out into a cup by a participant and given to another poor soul to drink. Those who had to climb up to carry out the task, handed out less than half the amount of hot sauce that those who had climbed down into the pit gave to their charges to drink.

Cooperation was also improved by elevation, as was shown by performance of the participants after being shown a video of looking out of an airplane or a car.

Clearly, preaching hell fire and brimstone from a raised pulpit is contraindicated. A much better plan would be to show heavenly videos in an iMax theater configuration. Next time I climb up the hill to feast on roast beef with my betters, I shall make sure that it is they that dole out the horseradish.

  1. L.J.Sanna, E.C.Chang, P.M.Micel & K.B.Lundberg, J. Exptl. Social Psych. 47, 472-476, (2011).

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