The Appeal of the Middle

New research (summarized by the BPS Research Digest) from Paul RodwayAstrid Schepman, and Jordana Lambert demonstrates that people seem to prefer items located in the middle:

“In replication of the centre-stage effect, it was found that when participants were presented with a line of five pictures, they preferred pictures in the centre rather than at either end,” the authors write. “This applies when the line of pictures was arranged horizontally or vertically and when participants selected from five pairs of identical socks arranged vertically.”  

The authors also discuss the policy implications of their work:

“If item location influences preference during the millions of purchasing choices that occur every day, it will be exerting a substantial influence on consumer behaviour. Moreover, choices from a range of options are made in many other contexts (e.g. legal and occupational), and it remains to be investigated whether the central preference remains with other formats and whether it extends to other types of decision.”

Okay, let’s see how this research holds up. Do you think that this blog post was:

  1. So-so.
  2. Fantastic! One of the most interesting things I’ve read all year!
  3. So-so.


As the fourth in a family of eight children, I found this blog post to be fascinating and one of the most interesting I've read all year ;)


I got a kick out of the questionnaire at the end.


Note to self: Never use the middle bathroom stall.

Erik Dallas

All marketing departments have known about placement and presentation for a long time. Why do distributors spend money on employees to come into stores to personally stock the shelves for stores? Placement and presentation sell. Without brand placement and presentation sales falls drastically. Think about all those vehicle miles and displace cases and man hours just spent on maintaining the branding and display identity that they know works. If brands sold independently of placement and presentation then distributors would let store owners and their employees stock the shelves.


Yet many items seem to sell (and at lower prices) without such placement & presentation. At least the stores continue to stock those items, and I doubt if I alone buy enough of any one to make the stocking worthwhile.

I wonder whether the extra money spent on such presentation is really justified by higher sales & increased profits, or whether the product placement managers have instead devoted their efforts to ensuring their continued employment.

Erik Dallas

At least one local owners of an international food distribution enterprises swear by it and in the down economy with reduced profits increased employment cost (more placement/stocking managers); the result was an increase to profits even in this down economy.


Does the preference apply to things presented vertically


They needed to do new research to confirm this? Retailers have known about this affect on consumer behaviour for years. Product location is one of the central tenants of space management.


Found the blog post "edgy"

Tim Dellinger

Clever writers (composers? constructors?) of multiple choice tests have long known that if you really want to be tough, you but your best distractor (the wrong answer that fools the most people) as option "C" because test takers feel most comfortable choosing C. (for a typical a-b-c-d multiple choice format).

Bill Ogorodny

This is very interesting. When I worked for Hills Department Stores in the 1980's they placed larger items on the right on the shelves. For example, Head and Shoulders Shampoo 20 oz would be placed to the right of Head and Shoulders Shampoo 10 oz. The thought was most people are right handed and would reach for the larger size. This study might change the merchandising techniques of retailers in the future.


Are the authors saying that this is more powerful than the primacy or recency effect?


I also congratulate your choice architecture.


clever article... I give it a 5/10...