A new study has shown that the middle is indeed the favourite when it comes to everyday choices ranging from what to wear or where to eat.
In the study, researchers Paul Rodway, Astrid Schepman and Jordana Lambert of the University of Chester, UK analysed 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 favouring items located in the middle of a row - regardless of whether it runs horizontally or vertically.
"People may not be aware of this preference, but it may influence choice in a wide range of day-to-day settings, such as the products people buy in shops or via online shopping, the responses they provide in surveys, and potentially the people they select for a range of tasks or functions," Rodway said.
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.
A second experiment mirrored the first except that the pictures were arranged vertically and only the "most prefer" questionnaire was used.
Although one might reasonably predict that items at the top of a column would be viewed more positively than those located at the bottom, this was not the case. Instead the data again revealed a trend for items occupying central locations.
The study has been published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology.