How to enhance online generosity using the altitude effect

Louisa Dunbar - Founder September 21, 2023

Perhaps you are part of a charity, oversee a community group, or have similar responsibilities, and you are seeking ways to boost giving, generosity, and cooperation. If so, there are insights provided by neuromarketing that can be instrumental.

The altitude effect encapsulates how, in our language, we associate height with goodness. This association has long been linked to the assumption that Heaven is above and Hell is below. Similarly, we look up to someone we admire and look down on someone less desirable.

The expression “putting someone on a pedestal” is also frequently used.

These associations are deeply ingrained in our subconscious minds. However, it also seems that our physical location affects our behaviour.

When we perform, we are up on a stage, and that elevates our status in relation to the audience.

Three studies demonstrate how this can aid not only in the giving industry but also in the commercial sector.

Study 1 – Escalators

In a study led by Lawrence Sanna of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, researchers examined how the physical position of subjects affected the likelihood that they would engage in altruistic actions.

The study involved approaching shoppers in a shopping mall for a donation after they had journeyed up or down an escalator.

Interestingly, the results showed that 16% of people going up the escalator contributed, whereas only 7% of those traveling down contributed. The control group on ground level, away from all escalators, received 11%.

Study 2 – Steps

Another more controlled study found that individuals who had ascended a set of steps spent 68% more time assisting the experiment leader with a task compared to those who had descended the steps.

Study 3 – Video

In this experiment, participants were shown videos shot from an aeroplane or a car and were asked to imagine themselves in the video. Afterwards, they participated in an activity where they thought they were helping another individual in a computer game. Participants who saw the aeroplane video (the high) were 60% more cooperative than participants who watched the car video.


In terms of utilising the altitude effect to enhance websites, we see ample opportunity in both the giving and commercial domains.

Cooperation is crucial when aiming to onboard people into communities or present new ideas. And of course, increasing the number of donations received and their value is also a valid reason to experiment with this effect.


To optimise the altitude effect, we suggest exploring the use of imagery showing objects or situations that appear ‘high up’, as this can potentially alter donation and sales rates. These could be directly added to pinnacle pages such as donation or sales pages, or on a page preceding them in the user journey.

Another way to leverage the effect could be by incorporating a story that climaxes at a literal or physical ‘high point’ on a relevant page of the site.

Integrating videos or photos shot from high points, like the top of a mountain or tree, could be another angle to explore.

The use-cases and potential applications could vary greatly, depending on the organisation. Therefore, we always recommend testing ideas before implementing them.

Reference: Dooley, R. (2011). Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing. John Wiley & Sons.

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