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take a seat

The surprising science behind how you pick your airplane seat

There is a good chance that when you are picking out your seat for a flight, you prefer to sit on the right side of the airplane, a new study reported by the BBC has found. The preference, which was discovered across a group of 32 right-handed people, apparently indicates "our mind's rightward bias in representing the real world," said Dr. Stephen Darling, a psychology lecturer at Queen Margaret University, which carried out the study at Edinburgh University.

In order to rule out the possibility that people just prefer to click one side of their computer screen when choosing a seat on a plane, participants in the study were "presented with seating diagrams with the plane facing either upwards or downwards," said Sergio Della Sala, a human cognitive neuroscience professor at Edinburgh University, who worked on the research. "The result clearly showed that the orientation of the plane made no difference to the preference, with most participants still making an active choice to choose seating on the right of the plane."

The study additionally found that people have a preference "for seats towards the front of the aircraft and a preference to favor window and aisle seats," although anyone who has ever been subjected to a middle seat between strangers likely could have told the researchers that.

Because of the small sample size and the specifics of the people chosen to participate in the study — right-handers between the ages of 21 and 31 — there is still much to learn about rightward bias on airplanes. Would left-handers, for example, have preferred the left side of the aircraft? "These results," the researchers write, "may have implications for our understanding of asymmetries in cognition as well as having potentially important practical implications for airlines."