Does Wobbly Furniture Tilt Perceptions?

Can fixing that shaky table affect your desire for emotional stability? A new study suggests as much. Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada sat one group of volunteers in slightly wobbly chairs next to slightly wobbly tables while another group was seated in chairs next to tables that looked identical but didn’t wobble. Then they asked both groups to perform a couple of tasks: first, to judge the stability of the relationships of celebrity couples by rating the likelihood of a breakup on a scale of one (“extremely unlikely to dissolve”) to seven (“extremely likely to dissolve”) and then to rate their preferences for various traits in a potential romantic partner, also on a scale of one (“not at all desirable”) to seven (“extremely desirable”). The Economist recently revealed the rather ground-shaking results of the study, soon to be published in the journal Psychological Science:

Participants who sat in wobbly chairs at wobbly tables gave the celebrity couples an average stability score of 3.2 while those whose furniture did not wobble gave them 2.5. What was particularly intriguing, though, was that those sitting at wonky furniture not only saw instability in the relationships of others but also said that they valued stability in their own relationships more highly. They gave stability-promoting traits in potential romantic partners an average desirability score of 5.0, whereas those whose tables and chairs were stable gave these same traits a score of 4.5. The difference is not huge, but it is statistically significant. Even a small amount of environmental wobbliness seems to promote a desire for an emotional rock to cling to.

Watch for this finding to launch a trend in divorce lawyer office decor: rocking chairs.

Pictured: A work from Dutch designer Anna Ter Haar’s 2010 “Cinderella’s Chair” project.