When given a range of options, people prefer the one in the middle.

Valenzuela, A., Raghubi, P. (2009) Position-based Beliefs: The Center-Stage Effect


Background

The majority of people choose the one in the middle. From picking answers on multiple choice tests1  to toilet cubicles2 and purchases3. The majority choose the middle option.

It’s due to how we look at things. When you first look you look to the middle, then scan out towards the edges. This creates a bias towards the centre of our visual field. The more attention we pay to things, the more we look, the more we like and the more likely we are to make that choice. This Gaze Cascade Effect4 means we tend to ignore the other options outside of the middle.

Researchers Valenzuela and Raghubir propose that the effect is social in nature5. Their study found that most consumers believe retailers put the most popular items in the middle. People’s nature to follow the herd then means we like to choose the products others have also chosen.

Before we all start putting everything in the middle, the effect doesn’t work in some cases.

When information is presented sequentially the centre effect disappears. Instead, people tend to choose the first and last on the list. For example, the names listed on a ballot paper.

How Might We

  • How might we identify the value of the choices on offer?
  • How might we introduce a new option into an array without causing unwanted effects in which customers choose?
  • How might we change how the cost, value, effort and features of desirable but extreme options, to make them seem in the middle?
  • How might we introduce an additional extreme option, to make the desired option more desirable?

Use with HEART

  • Happiness: help people make choices by presenting options in an array, with the desired option in the middle. This increases the perceived ease of use.
  • Task success: help people complete the task by making the choices easier and quicker to do. Guiding people through the options to completion.
  • Monetisation & revenue: present desired options in the middle to increase conversion.

Keep reading

Read paper: Rodway, Schepman & Lambert (2012). Preferring the One in the Middle: Further Evidence for the Centre‐stage Effect

Read paper: Atalay, S. Bodur, O., Rasolofoarison, D. (2012) Shining in the Center: Central Gaze Cascade Effect on Product Choice


References:

  • 1. Attali, Y. and Bar-Hillel, M. (2003). Guess Where: The Position of Correct Answers in Multiple Choice Test Items as a Psychometric Variable.
  • 2. Christenfeld, N. (1995), Choices from Identical Options. Psychological Science.
  • 3. Valenzuela, A., Raghubi, P. (2009) Position-based Beliefs: The Center-Stage Effect.
  • 4. Atalay, S. Bodur, O., Rasolofoarison, D. (2012) Shining in the Center: Central Gaze Cascade Effect on Product Choice.
  • 5. Valenzuela, A., Raghubi, P. (2009) Position-based Beliefs: The Center-Stage Effect