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“Ceiling is Believing” – The Cathedral Effect cognitive bias

Written by John Kuder

Table Of Contents

Note: The following short blog was written by AI, based on the video transcript.

The Concept of the Cathedral Effect

The Cathedral Effect, as coined by Edward T. Hall in the 1960s, explains how our perception of space is influenced by the height of ceilings. In smaller, enclosed spaces like chapels, individuals tend to feel limited. However, when in grand, cathedral-like spaces with high ceilings, a sense of liberation and expansiveness takes over.

Practical Applications in Workspaces

Applying the Cathedral Effect to workspaces reveals interesting insights. Lower ceilings are conducive to focused, detailed work, while higher ceilings stimulate creative thinking and imagination. This knowledge can be leveraged in designing office spaces to enhance specific tasks and activities.

Design Considerations for Retail Environments

In retail settings, the choice of ceiling height can impact customer experience. High ceilings in display areas encourage customers to envision themselves using products or services, while low ceilings in consultation spaces promote focus on details and decision-making.


The concept of the Cathedral Effect offers a fascinating perspective on how architectural elements can shape our thoughts and actions. By understanding the impact of ceiling heights on our psyche, we can design spaces that optimize productivity, creativity, and overall well-being.

Thanks to Ian Johnston of Quinine Design for his informative article on this topic and the clever quote, “Ceiling is Believing” https://quininedesign.com/perspectives/design-principles-cathedral-effect

Video transcript:

Hi, we are back with another cognitive bias today. Cool. And which one are we talking about? Ceiling is believing. What, that’s not the name of the cognitive bias. That’s just a cute, cute quote I found. Okay. In a nice article, I’ll get back to that, but it’s called The Cathedral Effect. Okay. And the Cathedral Effect is falls in the category of the too much information.

You know, we have too much information coming at us, so we need to filter somehow. And it’s, it’s a bit of a stretch there. Okay. Okay. But here’s what it is. The, in 1960 mm-hmm. , a man named Edward T. Hall, that was a very. made a , made the observation that when people are in chapels Yeah. In a church that are mm-hmm.

smaller spaces with lower ceilings, they tend to feel enclosed and, and kind of, you know, limited. Whereas in a cathedral with a really, it’s got a great big high ceiling, they feel liberated and expansive and so, okay. that’s been studied a bit and taken, I hope so, you know, taken into a practical application, so, okay.

Practically speaking in our workspaces. Okay. If we’re going to do detailed work focused, very task specific, detailed work. Okay. , the lower ceiling is a better environment for that. This is not a, it, it’s a bias. So it’s, it’s a, it’s a, okay. A nudge in a direction. It’s not a, okay. A controlling factor. Okay.

It’s not to say that you can’t be creative in a low ceiling space at all. Okay. It’s just this. When we’re our awareness of the space, it, it, it affects us a bit. And so we’re okay. We’re just, it’s easier to do the, so having that narrow focus, narrow focus is supported, supported by that lower ceiling. Ah, no, that makes sense.

And the, and the, you know, if we want to think out of the box and be really creative and. You know, just you know, kind of imagine abstract thinking. That’s where the high ceilings come into play. Are, are, are, is a better place. So now, oh, taking this to, to where I, you know, I found more, more information was in, in terms of design of Oh yeah.

Retail spaces or workspace. Okay. Okay. Think about a a in a retail environment when you want a customer to imagine themselves using this product or service. Okay? You want a high ceiling. . Okay. And then, but if you’re, then, if you need to sit down, like, I’m thinking of an auto dealership. This is a actually great, so the, the showroom typically big high ceiling space.

Oh, true, true, right, true. But then when you go to sit down with a business manager to, to go over the, the contract and the financing and the warranty and you know, all of the detailed paperwork. All yeah. That’s in a little office with a low ceiling. Ah, that’s a great example of how, how the two different spaces could be used in a.

in a, in a retail in a, in a store, you know, you could have a, the display area where, you know, we’ve got high ceilings and people are imagining, and then, and then they might have a, you know, a lower ceiling or a, a side, oh, well, even dressing room or dressing rooms. Dressing rooms are always smaller, where they’re, you know, focusing on the, the details about it like that.

That’s pretty, that’s pretty preferable. So that’s. That’s it. I mean, there’s, there’s been some study done, Uhhuh, . It, it, they found one, one little detail that was interesting was that if people weren’t, weren’t aware, like if they couldn’t somehow see the ceiling mm-hmm. , which I can’t imagine where that would be, but if they didn’t know what the ceiling height was then, then this effect was much less.

So it, it’s definitely perceptive, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s something that’s priming you or influencing your perception. And, and then the, the, the last thing I wanted to mention was, To give credit to the little quote ceiling is believing. There was a I’ll put a link in the, in the comments. I found an article on a website from Quinine Designs, which is in the uk.

Okay. The author was Ian Johnston. And that was the subtitle on the article, and I just Oh, that’s pretty cool. I thought it was really cute. So I, I wanted to borrow it. And getting back to this, you know, most government buildings when you walk in the, the atrium mm-hmm. , for instance, is very expansive. Mm.

and, and then all the little cubicles , right. When we gonna get, gonna get to the details again? Yeah. We’re gonna get, we’re gonna get serious then we, yeah. Till we go talk to the whatevers that we’re talking to. Oh, okay. So probably there’s probably some correlation between the government, big spaces and the cathedrals.

Literal cathedrals, you know. Oh, that’s that. From past I would think so. You know, historically I would think so. And oh, and so I wanted to also give credit and remind if, if anybody’s following this mm-hmm. , Buster Benson, who, who went to this, did this amazing work, putting all these cognitive biases.

different categories. Mm-hmm. and different conundrums or problems. So we have this problem of too much information and then he, he developed or labeled a number of strategies. And the strategy that this particular cognitive bias falls into is we depend on the context. So when we’re Sure. Looking at, you know, it’s kind of obvious, isn’t it, right now that you think about it.

Sure. Yes. So we, we use that context of the space. It’s, it’s kind of almost subconscious or right or near conscious Right. To, to help with the, the task. So thanks for spending a few minutes with us and we will see you. Interesting as usual, . Yes. See you in another video. Bye. Bye.

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