Humans are a funny bunch. We have preferences that most of us aren’t even aware of. Like when we’re picking a seat. When we’re in a movie theater, we’re likely to choose at seat on the right of the aisle. And new research has shown that on airplanes we veer left.
Previous research has shown that when humans are selecting a seat in a movie theater, they, subconsciously, tend to want to be on the right side. So researchers predicted that the same would be true of airplanes. The study chose airlines that allow people to pick their seats before checkout—Air Canada and American Airlines.
They looked at 12,762 seats on 100 different flights and compared them with seat choices in 37 different movie theaters. On the airplane, 66 precent of the seats on the left side of the planes were occupied, compared to 60 percent of those on the right. When the researchers scored seat preference and subtracted left from right, they found that the seating asymmetry was -3.27 (a score of 0 would have indicated no preference). In the theater, on the other hand, people confirmed earlier studies and picked seats on the right.
We don’t realize we’re doing this, because we’re not that great at seeing our own spatial biases. If you ask people to locate the middle of a line, they’ll put it to the left of the true middle if the line is close to them and to the right if it’s far away. When we walk through a doorway, we tend to veer to the right. If you ask people to choose between objects presented to them, they’ll pick the ones on the right, even if all the objects are completely identical.
The researchers offer two possible explanations for the left-leaning aircraft seating. First, they say, people tend to turn right when they pass through a doorway. So it’s possible that people turned right when they entered the plane and want to turn right again to choose a seat, winding up on the left side of the plane. The second explanation they suggest is that people might choose left seats because they “feel like they’re closer to the exit” even though they’re not.
More from Smithsonian.com: