Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Right-handers sit to the right of the movie screen to optimise neural processing of the film

Although our bodies appear largely symmetrical on the outside, the way our brains are organised and wired is rather more lop-sided. This is obvious to us in relation to handedness, whereby the brain is better at controlling one hand than the other. The idea that, for many of us, the left-hemisphere is dominant for language is also widely known. However, functional asymmetry between the brain hemispheres also affects our behaviour in more subtle ways that are still being explored. The latest example of this comes from Japan where Matia Okubo has shown that right-handers have a preference for sitting to the right of the cinema screen, but only when they are motivated to watch the film. The finding is consistent with the idea that in right-handers, the right-hemisphere is dominant for processing visual and emotional input. By sitting to the right of the screen, the film is predominantly processed by the right-hemisphere and the suggestion is that, without necessarily realising it, right-handers are choosing to sit in an optimal position for their brain to digest the movie.

Okubo presented 200 students with a grid showing the seats available in a cinema (a central area was shown as occupied; the screen was at the top of the grid). In the first experiment, all the students were told that the film was enjoyed by friends and critics, with half also told that the story was sad and depressing and to imagine that they'd rather avoid seeing it. For students who only heard the recommendation, the right-handers were far more likely to choose a seat to the right of the screen (74 per cent did so), whereas the left-handers and mixed-handers didn't show a bias for one side or the other.

For the students who were put off the film, none showed a preference for the right-hand seats, regardless of their handedness. This suggests that we only choose an optimal seat for our brain organisation when we're motivated to watch the film. Left-handers and mixed-handers are known to have a more balanced distribution of function across their hemispheres so this could explain why they didn't show the opposite bias to the right-handers.

A second experiment was nearly identical, but this time half the students were told the film was excellent and depressing, whereas the other students were simply told they wouldn't enjoy it. Again, when they were motivated to watch the film, even a depressing one, the right-handers showed a bias for seats to the right of the screen. 'People tend to adopt the most effective manner in which their hemispheric functions can be utilised,' Okubo said, adding that: 'It is tempting to think that some other undiscovered behavioural asymmetries can also be discovered through this approach'.

This new research comes after a past study showed that adults with a more artistic, less analytic thinking style (associated with the right hemisphere) were more likely to sit on the right-hand side of the classroom; and another that showed people are more likely to exhibit the left side of their face (controlled by the right hemisphere) when asked to express emotion in a family photo, but to show their right profile when asked to pose as a scientist.
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ResearchBlogging.orgOkubo, M. (2010). Right movies on the right seat: Laterality and seat choice. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24 (1), 90-99 DOI: 10.1002/acp.1556

[Related Digest item here]

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

15 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Anonymous12:17 am

    "... to the right of the cinema screen ..."

    What does that mean exactly if I'm right-handed? Facing the screen, I can touch the wall

    a) to my righ with my right hand
    b) to my left with my left hand

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  3. With the screen in front of them, right-handers choose to sit to the right-hand side of the auditorium.

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  4. Anonymous3:43 pm

    I question that the real reason for seating preference was tested for. I can think of at least one other reason individuals would make a seating choice. Eye dominance. Most right handers have a dominant right eye but some like myself have a dominant left eye. I rarely sit on the right side of a movie theater.

    Something to check for, no?

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  5. Regarding eye-dominance - I don't think this is relevant. Wherever you sit, visual input will arrive at both of your eyes. However, sitting to the right of the screen will mean that visual information from the film is predominantly processed by the right-hand side of the brain. This is because of the way that the optic nerve is wired. Visual information arriving at the right-hand side of each eye is passed to the right-hemisphere for processing, and vice-versa for information arriving at the left-hand side of each eye.

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  6. Although interesting, there is an issue of ecological validity here. Being shown a symmetrical grid is not the same as going into the cinema (often not symmetrical) and choosing a seat. In the cinema auditorium seat preference could be affected by the location of other audience members and the position of the entrance and stairways in relation to the seating.

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  7. I agree with Graham Jones: the next step would be to examine actual cinemas and see whether people tend to prefer one side of the auditorium. You wouldn't know people's handedness, but given that 90% of people are right handed, if this study is right, cinemas should be more full on the right-hand side.

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  8. Anonymous11:10 am

    I'm right-handed and left-eyed. I prefer to sit slightly to the right of the centre such that my left eye is central with the screen. It's the same with my computer monitor.

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  9. Anonymous4:43 pm

    I am right handed, and usually choose the left or centre left. This experiment does not seem to cover all the possibilities why someone might have chose those seats...

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  10. Anonymous9:45 pm

    Intersting. My favorite seat at my local theater is on the left side because its above the enterance, so I get all the leg room I want and the best view possible. But when that seat is taken or I enter a new theater I do seem to sit on the right side more often. (Like when I saw Avatar in IMAX last month)

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  11. Anonymous2:37 pm

    Graham Jones is right, all this really tells you is that right handers prefer the right side of a grid when they have to choose between the left side and the right side. It is interesting that the information you are given about the film changes things, but it's a bit of a stretch to assume that this is related to best use of one or other hemisphere. If this is true, should lefties be driving on the other side of the road?

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  12. Anonymous10:50 pm

    i'm right-handed, and i study at the left side of the living room, so that everything else is on my right, and i find it easier to turn right, face the right side, position myself toward the right side. so i associate right-handedness with being on the left side so everyting else is on the right. maybe this is the reason right-handed people (with more analytic thinking) choose to sit at the left side of the classroom and vice versa.
    but i don't see why sitting at the right makes the right hemisphere more active(your body is positioned facing towards left)..would like to know their relation.

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  13. I always choose dead center! Back row if possible.

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  14. I always choose dead center... back row if possible

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  15. Flawed study.

    1. denied them the option of centre;
    2. didn't observe real behaviour
    3. doesn't state if asked to state left/right handedness before study.

    They would need to observe behaviour after allowing access to all parts of the cinema via 'neutral door'

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