Is group brainstorming more effective if you do it standing up?

Experts say that spending more time standing at work is good for your physical well-being. Now there’s another reason to ditch your office chair. According to psychologists in the US, standing improves group brainstorming sessions.

Andrew Knight and Markus Baer recruited 214 undergrads to take part in a 30-minute brainstorming session in groups of three to five people. The challenge for the groups was to come up with ideas for a university recruitment video, which they then recorded at the end of the session.

All groups were filmed as they took turns to conduct their brainstorm in the same room – a 13.5 x 8.5 foot space, with table, whiteboard and note pads. For half of the groups, there were five office chairs around the table, whereas for the other groups there were no chairs.

Knight and Baer found that groups working in the room with no chairs showed higher arousal, as measured by a gadget worn around the wrist that detected skin sweatiness. Students in these groups also showed reduced territoriality, which means that individuals felt less possessive of the ideas they generated. This might be because the lack of chairs encouraged them to share the physical space and this facilitated a sharing mindset. The good news is both these factors – higher arousal and less territoriality – were associated with more “idea elaboration”. This is the process, crucial for successful group brainstorming, by which each individual’s best ideas are recombined with other people’s, or improved upon by others.

Strangely, the researchers don’t report whether students in the chairless room spent more time standing (perhaps they sat on the floor?). However, the chairless students did say afterwards that they felt there was more room to move around, and their higher arousal could be a sign of more movement.

The researchers concluded: “Our results suggest that if leaders aspire to enhance collaborative knowledge work, they might consider eschewing the traditional conference room setup of tables and chairs and, instead, clear an open space for people to collaborate with one another.”

The downer for this study is that while a space with no chairs was beneficial for the manner in which students worked together, ultimately there was no improvement in terms of the final videos that they produced. That is, videos produced by groups working in a room with no chairs were rated by judges as no more polished or creative, than videos produced by groups working in a room with chairs. Further research, preferably with creative professionals, is needed to replicate the main finding that standing brainstorms are conducted in a more effective way, and to see whether this can boost final creative output.


Knight, A., & Baer, M. (2014). Get Up, Stand Up: The Effects of a Non-Sedentary Workspace on Information Elaboration and Group Performance. Social Psychological and Personality Science DOI: 10.1177/1948550614538463

–further reading–
Why do we still believe in group brainstorming?
The much maligned group brainstorm can aid the process of combining ideas
Forget brainstorming – try brainwriting!

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

29 thoughts on “Is group brainstorming more effective if you do it standing up?”

  1. For info – no-one is saying that having a wide face *makes* you a better fighter. It's a correlation, so there will be exceptions. However, for some reason the correlation exists, and moreover, naive observers appear to be able to use this feature to estimate with some accuracy a man's fighting prowess (in this case, as reflected in their UFC performance). There's strong evidence that observers are using facial width in this way, because when the researchers made a man's face appear wider, naive observers estimated his fighting formidability to be greater. Higher basal testosterone levels are one potential causal factor that may affect face shape and strength/aggression, thereby helping explain the face width / formidability correlation.

  2. So, a fighter is one that has a wide face, THATS RACIST, or is it that usual psych out face that most use to intimidate and that was the sample set and not genetics. Apparently I've won all my fights the wrong way.

  3. I gave up on this when you started basing your success on a correlation. Correlations do not imply causality! There is an axing correlation between the times I wear my jacket and it rains. Maybe you'd like to claim my jacket makes it rain. No causality, just association.
    Oh, and you put yourself on the ropes when you were suggesting this is Darwinian and evolution based. Sounds more like phrenology to me and that got thrown out by serious scientists a hundred years ago. Please stop positing shite, you'd better listen my face is wider than it is long, I'm nails me…

  4. I think we should be examining the correlation between penis size and fighting prowess instead. Who cares about their jaws?

  5. This could be quantum, perhaps we want the wider face to kick the skinny face's ass. Real world results may different than UFC fighters.

  6. Please get an independent replication with all the data provided.

  7. Perhaps its more likely due to the fact that men with wider faces tend to be more muscular / stronger? Hence they're more likely to win fights?

  8. This research would have been more interesting had the more obvious visual cues been followed up.'Wider' is so fluffy as a descriptor. The obvious cues in this example are in the musculature and general facial tone. Face 1 has heavily developed neck muscles with well developed and toned connective tissue throughout the face/skull. Face 2 is poorly toned and flaccid, therefore proportionately longer and thinner.. 'Wide face' is an imprecise and probably spurious correlation here.

  9. Tom, correlation is not cause and we may agree there. However, failure to investigate guarantees ignorance and in the scientific method, increased study leads to increased understanding. Moreover, in logic, and in statistics, and in experimental research design, and science generally, nearly verbatim statements like the one you made are used as examples of 'Joe or Sarah Meathead n=1' ignorance. Consider and easy to understand example. For every 1 person killed because of seatbelt strangulation, something like 10 or 20 others are saved from death by seatbelts. Are these studies a 'waste'? Only 'Joe or Sarah Meathead' science would think so and only Joe or Sarah would argue against seat belt laws…

  10. This is fascinating, our brain works pretty much the same way when recalling memories either on purpose or by accident. If this is true is there really any reason to separate the two? Could this be the case for other abilities of the brain? I could see how this study would greatly improve the understanding of Post-dramatic Stress disorder.

  11. I wonder how they do to control for “racial”/”lineage” differences. I think Asians, many Africans (except for North Africans, around Ethiopia, or others sometimes, called “elongated Africans” in physical anthropology), and Eastern Europeans (so called Alpine types) have all wider faces than Caucasoids or Africans with “thinner faces”. Would it be possible that this is still predictive even at this level? I don't think so, I think the “masculinity” would weigh more, both on people's guessings and in actual measures of fight prowess (but again, we're talking about averages, not rules without deviations).

    And among those people with “racially” rounded/wider faces there are many who seem rather “infantile” looking, in adulthood. And conversely, some Europeans with the thinner faces (“Nordics”) can also look quite masculine and, partly speculating by the historical fame of the Vikings, I don't doubt that there would or could be a significant deviation of this pattern with them.

    I also wonder about native Australians. They have the most massive skulls, both males and females. Are there MMA/boxing agents looking for potential world-stars among the natives of Australia?

    I recall reading something about a substantial predictive power of the girth of the wrist among boxers. A boxer who had the girth of fighters of the weight class above his own was/is holding the best records in his category.

  12. Sorry, it's not like in “what the bleep do we know”. The hypothetical difference in cheering is unlikely to have an outweighing effect on UFC fights, or even in the “real world”, where I would pretty much include UFC fights — these fights are probably more serious than most “real world” fights, anyway.

    While there is some research that indicates that people's evaluations/intuitions may be affected by things like the color of the belt or jacket a fighter is wearing (which may even affect the referee's judgments and perhaps even the fighters abilities), ultimately real physical difference should make more difference, and these facial differences are probably proxies for advantageous musculature and bone structure.

  13. What's wrong with correlations? There's nothing unexpected or absurd with some traits (like facial features, or breadth) correlating with others (like bone girth or musculature), and these “other” traits giving some advantage in a fight, all else being equal. Nor it's utterly wrong or nonsensical that perhaps people more or less unconsciously can infer the former from the latter.

    But the “darwinian evolution” part sounded a bit like a joke to me, almost like the result of an exercise of “let's just come up with darwinian explanations for random stuff”. Sort of the evolutionary “equivalent” of Poe's law.

    Not that it's totally off, larger/bulkier males are certainly the result of darwinian adaptation, but when we remember that in the human lineage such dimorphisms have been in progressive decline, it's almost irrelevant/nonsensical to bring that up. It's much more about an evolutionary “inertia” of past adaptations than a present adaptation, still maintained at this precise level by natural selection. It may confer some advantage at instances, but I think it's quite hard to make a case that such instances are what kept humans from becoming perfectly non-dimorphic in relation to such traits. We're probably the closest possible to that already, to go further than that some rather unlikely and unimaginable selective pressures would be required.

    Even sexual selection probably plays a larger role at this point. By “at this point”, I mean something like, perhaps starting on Australopithecines, and pretty much stabilizing with Homo.

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