The Cathedral Effect: how ceiling height impacts creativity

1 minute read

The cathedral effect is the name for the positive effect on creativity that high ceiling have on people.

The effects produced by high or low ceilings
actually occur because such ceiling heights increase or
decrease vertical room volume, which in turn stimulates
alternative concepts and types of processing.
— J. Meyers-Levy, R. Zhu (2007) The influence of ceiling height

The study outlines how it’s not the absolute height, but the perception of height. People didn’t get any difference if they didn’t feel the ceiling as either high or low, however, when perceived, there were measurable outcomes.

High Ceiling (“cathedrals”):

  • Priming of freedom-related concepts
  • Relational, abstract elaboration
  • Find more commonalities
  • More creativity

Low Ceiling (“chapels”):

  • Priming of confinement-related concepts
  • Item-specific elaboration
  • Find more differences
  • More refinement

While the cathedral effect is a good rule of thumb for creativity with high ceilings – as creativity is more relational, open, and associative – I think the full scope of both high and low ceiling gives a broader and more useful understanding of the concept that can drive better practical decision when we need to choose the best place for a specific kind of work.

One question remaining for me is “how big” is the impact. While the paper measures the impact, it’s hard to assess it when other variables come into play. What’s interesting is that the impact is there, so we can consider it.


Thanks to Brie Anne Demkiw for the article.