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How To Choose A Seat In Theatres: Always Sit On The Right Side

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The goal of this study was to investigate the underlying causes behind the right-seat bias in cinemas, as displayed by Karev’s experiment in the year 2000. The researchers wanted to determine whether or not the bias was due to the expectation of the demand to process emotional events, and the right hemisphere’s superior capability of processing such events, as Karev claimed. Previous research has displayed stronger emotional reactions triggered by the right hemisphere when film clips are presented to the left of the visual field, but has failed to prove that the latter is the cause of the bias when it comes to choosing a seat. This is because previous experiments only involved rooms with a screen/stage on the top/front of the room.

Therefore, other behavioural causes could be attributed such as the tendency to turn a certain direction when entering a room or the visual orientation of participants choosing their seats from a diagram. In this study, two experiments were performed. The first was to determine whether the choice to sit on a particular side of a room is affected by screen position and the visual orientation of the person looking at the diagram of a room. The second was to determine if the right-seat bias is true for similar situations, and for situations where there is no focal point, as this would indicate that other factors are at play rather than it only being a matter of expecting more emotional processing and therefore choosing to activate the appropriate hemisphere.

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For the first experiment, 171 adults (79 men, 92 women) aged 18-65 were tested. Half of them are students from different faculties at the University of Wurzburg, and the other half were non-students from the area. They were given 8 cartesian maps of different cinemas, each varying in seating arrangements (no. of rows and seats), and location of entry points. Each map had the screen at either the top, bottom, right, or left of the room, and there were 2 maps for each screen orientation. Each map also had a large number of unavailable seats in the middle columns of the theater (relative to the screen) to put emphasis on choosing a particular side of the screen. The participants (who were asked individually) were to suppose they were going to a movie with a friend, and from the available seats, they were to choose the two in which they would prefer to sit. The results showed a tendency to choose the right side of the cinema when the screen was on the top or on the right, however, there was also a preference to choose the right side of the page, as maps with the screen on the bottom of the page showed the opposite results. Therefore, it is likely that the observations of previous experiments (Karev, 2000) were due to the visual orientation of the participants looking at the diagrams. For the second experiment, 80 adults (42 men, 38 women) of the same demographic from the first experiment were tested. Using the same scenario from Experiment 1, participants were given two different locations.

The first was a theater, and the second was a rotating 360 degree rotating radio tower restaurant. For the theater, 4 maps were given, each with a stage at 1 of 4 different locations (top, bottom, left, right), and with seating arrangements and taken seats varying in the same manner as experiment 1, only this time all the entrances were at the back-center of the theater (relative to the orientation of the screen on the map). For the restaurant, 4 maps were given, each with an elevator opening either towards the top, right, bottom, or left of the page. Tables were arranged in a circle close to the windows, with no tables directly in front of the elevator, to force a left or right decision. Participants had to choose two seats per theater, a table per restaurant, and show their pathway from the entrance to their selection for each page. The results for the theater test showed that subjects generally chose the right side of the theater, this time regardless of screen orientation.

For the restaurant, the was a tendency to choose seats to the right of the entrance when it is located at the top, and the opposite is true when the entrance is on the bottom, but the latter was not significant (a difference big enough to be considered of value/not random). This almost replicates the results for the the first experiment as it shows a right-paperside preference, but the first time it was a significant difference. For both locations, the direction turned from the entrance was always the same as the side chosen. For all three locations, an overall right-seat bias was shown. However, the bias was never significant for screens/stages/entrances facing the bottom, and for these cases sometimes the opposite was significant, which would indicate that a paperside preference could have been a factor in Karev’s experiment. Also, since the right-side preference was present in the restaurant scenario, Karev’s claim that the choice is due to the expectation of emotional processing can’t be assumed as the primary cause of the bias, as there is no center of focus in a restaurant. The researchers conclude that although they had addressed weaknesses in Karev’s study, there are still weaknesses in their own, and they should be taken into account for future studies.

Firstly, The role of handedness in the decision making was difficult to determine as there was only a small sample of left handed participants. Second, the participants had to choose several times and this could raise concerns about subjects spontaneously altering choices when things are repetitive. This study also did not take into account emotional circumstances, as Karev assumed that under the right motivational circumstances, the decision would be due to hemispheric lateralization. This is assumed because someone who would be consciously attempting to get the most out of the experience might therefore wish to process it primarily with the right hemisphere by sitting to the right of the screen.


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