Do our environments affect our honesty? Yes, according to research conducted at MIT's Sloan School of Management and described in an article in the November 2013 issue of the Harvard Business Review, "Big Chairs Create Big Cheats" (sounds like a tabloid headline.)
The setup was to place some test subjects into larger work spaces with bigger desks and chairs, where the subject could stretch out and expand their posture. But other subjects were placed in more a confined space where they could not take an expansive posture, but were cramped and restricted in movement. Then the rub: All subjects were overpaid for their participation in the study.
How—if at all—would the surroundings affect whether the subject kept the extra do re mi or returned it? Turns out, a lot. A whopping 78 percent of those who could adopt an expansive posture kept the extra and unearned money, while only a measly 38 percent in the cramped posture kept the money.
Wait, there's more. Does the size of the driver's seat in a car effect whether the driver will park illegally? Yes—not by a little, but by a lot. When the size of the driver's seat increased by one standard deviation from the mean, the probability that the car would be doubled parked increased from 51 percent to 71 percent.
Bottom line: We make our spaces, then our spaces make us. Maybe there is a good argument for law firms giving all lawyers standard office sizes. Corner office? R.I.P. Full disclosure: Here’s my office.