THE RIGHT STUFF
The climbing wall used to promote team building at my Saddlebrook headquarters has two climbing routes, one on the left and one on the right. The degree of difficulty is about the same on either side. However, it is my subjective impression that the left is slightly easier to climb because there are additional objects on the wall to grasp within easy reach. Yet, people prefer to climb up the right side. Cognitive neuroscientists now believe that a person’s preference for an object is determined in part by its position in space. But this was not news for the publishing industry.
Tom Dempsey was at the helm of Penton Publishing Company at a time when it published many of the most popular magazines in the country. Advertising was a major stream of revenue. However, just as important as the content was the ad’s placement on the page. Space on right-facing pages was sold for considerably more than space on the left. But even on those left-facing pages, the most desired position was right of center. That’s because of a discovery using a special camera that was capable of tracking a person’s eyes as they scanned a printed page. Invariably, the eyes would initially track to whatever was on the right.
That discovery was made more than 40 years ago. Now, scientists have demonstrated that most people do, indeed, prefer things that are to their right. Volunteers were shown almost identical, abstract objects. They were then asked to rate them on a variety of attributes. Those on the right side of the page were judged by right-handed people to have more positive qualities than those on the left. Lefties judged the ones on the left more favorably. In another experiment, people were asked to draw a good animal in one box and a bad one in another. Invariably, the good animal was drawn in the box corresponding to the person’s dexterity. But while there was a preference for the side corresponding to handedness, there was consensus that being on top was superior to being on the bottom. Regardless of whether the person wrote with the left or right hand, the object in the upper position was judged superior to that below it.
Evidence for these preferences has been around much longer than the experiments. In Latin, the word for right is dexter (as in dexterity); the word for left is sinister. Those who excel are said to have the right stuff. Sitting at the right hand of a leader is a position of honor, and who wouldn’t feel good after being told, “You’re all right!” (far better than being accused of being in left field or of having two left feet.) And who wouldn’t prefer to be on top of the world instead of down in the dumps?
Have you ever judged or been judged based upon where you might have been seated relative to others? Or made a choice based not upon value, but because of a marketer’s awareness that the ad on the right-facing page would more likely entice you than the one on the left? I’ve lost track of how much time has been wasted because people insisted on waiting to use the right side of the climbing wall instead of using the available left. Increase your awareness of all the factors that influence your choices. Then, you’re more likely to be right.