September 05, 2011
We Are Biased Toward Choosing Middle Items In Lists

Don't trust your feelings of preferring one thing over another. If you can manipulate the order of items you can see if your desired choices really represent what you want. We are drawn to liking what is at the center of the stage.

In their article 'Preferring the One in the Middle: Further Evidence for the Centre-stage Effect', researchers Paul Rodway, Astrid Schepman and Jordana Lambert of the University of Chester, UK analyze three separate but related experiments in which they tested the association between the location of an item in a series and how often that item is selected as preferable over other choices. The results indicate a clear tendency toward favoring items located in the middle of a row regardless of whether it runs horizontally or vertically.

The researchers did a few experiments with the order of different sorts of items (e.g. socks and pictures). Order of pictures clearly influenced what people liked the most. But their least preferred picture choice did not appear to be influenced by order.

In the first experiment 100 participants evaluated 17 rows of pictures. Half the survey-takers were asked to choose which of the five pictures in each row they "most prefer" with the other half choosing the one they "least prefer." A significant trend toward the item in the middle was identified when participants were asked to declare a positive preference. However, location did not appear to influence selection when choosing the least preferred pictures.

Of course, there's a flip side to this: If you want people to choose a specific item put it in the middle.

Our brains are incredibly flawed instruments. We've got try to compensate for staging effects, decision fatigue, and other mental handicaps that we are often not consciously aware of.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 September 05 06:45 PM  Brain Performance

red said at September 5, 2011 7:34 PM:

Most subjection question like "what looks the best" are entirely based on our evaluation of what the rest of the group would think. As such when we don't know the item were looking at we tend to pick something in the middle because that's our best guess of what the group would like.

If your talking function vs value people choose a little better but still poorly if they have not tested all the models.

PacRim Jim said at September 6, 2011 3:04 AM:

Bell curve. Standarddeviationphoia.

David said at September 6, 2011 1:55 PM:

Ha what an interesting concept. I will definitely be more aware of where I look on a list from now on.

Sam said at September 6, 2011 10:11 PM:

Another argument in favour of Robson Rotation for the order of candidates on ballot papers.

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Go Read More Posts On FuturePundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright