I’ve always wondered if taller people feel mightier and not so tall ones dominated when talking to others. On one hand, on a very physical it makes sense. We generally perceive things that are up above as mightier and more powerful (think God), and things that we look down on as weaker. On the other hand, maybe this applies only to things that we don’t encounter everyday – we are used to our own height and this would serve as our benchmark; if I’m typically looking at things from above because I’m simply higher, then it would take a significant difference in heights to introduce this effect.

That’s too big of a question to answer definitively here, but a new study sheds light on a related topic – does our perception of people changes depending on whether they are shot from a low-angle, eye-level, or high-level point of view. Turns out that it does.

The authors had actors filmed from three different camera angles while performing a short script “…inspired by a TV show called Split or Steal, which features a one-time version of
the prisoner’s dilemma.” Then they asked participants in the experiment to evaluate actors trustworthiness and attractiveness. The conclusion:

We perceive others are being more trustworthy when we see them at eye-level. In both of the other options (from below or above) trustworthiness is consistently lower; it doesn’t matter whether we look at people from below or from above – we trust them less.

The explanation the authors provide is that the eye-level view is “…the most even in terms of power distribution. Communicating to someone at eye-level implies that both agents are at the same level.” Don’t take this as a conclusive yet as this wasn’t tested in the study, but I should admit that it makes intuitive sense.

Stretching the limits of this insight, I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t one of the functions of as common an everyday object as the table. Could it be that the table is kind of a “great leveler”, redistributing power among people by virtue of decreasing the physical differences between us? Clearly, that’s not a table’s main function but an implicit message is a message nonetheless, sometimes all the more powerful because we don’t recognize that we are receiving it. At the end of the day, everything communicates, everything impact.

My best wishes for an inspiring day ahead.

Based on: Effect of Camera Angle on Perception of Trust and Attractiveness; Andreas Michael Baranowski and Heiko Hecht ; Empirical Studies of the Arts, volume 36, issue 1, pp. 90-100.

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