Centre-Stage EffectOpen Access

Centre-Stage Effect

We prefer the middle option in a horizontal set of choices

In direct opposition to vertical lists, the middle option is preferred within a horizontal list. This is due to our central gaze and a naive belief that middle options are better or more important.

Kim et al (2019). Position Effects of Menu Item Displays in Consumer Choices: Comparisons of Horizontal Versus Vertical Displays. Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, 60(2), 116–124.

The study

Setup

Setup

155 people were shown a cocktail menu, with 5 options listed either vertically or horizontally. They were then asked which drink they'd prefer.

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Results

Results

In great contrast with those with a vertical menu, those with the horizontal menu were far more likely to choose a drink in its centre (26.5%) than at its edges (10%).

Study graph
np_read_2490885_000000

Kim et al (2019). Position Effects of Menu Item Displays in Consumer Choices: Comparisons of Horizontal Versus Vertical Displays. Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, 60(2), 116–124.

Did you know of the fascinating study of winners of the popular gameshow The Weakest Link (Raghubir & Valenzuela, 2006)?

Researchers found that contestants randomly assigned to a central position in the semi-circle tv set design were 45% likely to win the show over those positioned at the edges, who were only 10% likely.

Multiple studies have shown a bias like this to prefer central options over ones at the extremes, in what's called "edge aversion".

There are two key mechanics underpinning Centre-Stage:

1. Central gaze:

Eye-tracking research has shown us to have a tendency to give more attention naturally to what is directly in front of our eyes (Atalay, Bodur, and Rasolofoarison, 2012)

2. The "Centre is Best" belief:

Where we feel that options placed in the middle are somehow better or more popular than those that them. This may be driven by how we use cues around group status, authority and attractiveness and how we then map these beliefs onto unrelated items so as to make the 'best' choice.

Certainly, Weakest Link contestants are no less subject to this phenomenon than supermarket shoppers.

One wonders, if the tv set was creatively redesigned so that contestants would be stacked vertically, how their odds of winning might be a little better if they were up top, seen as gods looking down on the rest.

Key Takeaways

1
1

Put what's 'best' in the centre

Whether it's a product on a shelf, a panelist on a tv show or a set of cocktails in a menu, what's horizontally surrounded by its peers is seen as most popular.

Those unfortunate enough to be placed at the edge are therefore seen as less attractive or riskier, unless actively stated otherwise (e.g. "Market Leader" / "most popular").

If you're designing for 1) new customers with limited knowledge or 2) for a range of products that don't vary too much from one another, reduce cognitive fatigue by presenting a small set of choices horizontally, helping them towards the middle option.

Consider adding in some Social Proof to boost effectiveness and guidance.

Takeaway image
2
2

Orientation is everything

So, as a general rule, for horizontal lists, we'll more likely choose the middle option given its perceived popularity.

However, for a vertical list of options, the opposite is true: the first and last items are seen as more influential and are more likely to be chosen (See Serial Position Effect).

Put simply, we have an in-built judgement of good as up and bad as down and that, when it comes to making a choice, the higher, the better, quite frankly!

In both an online and physical context, orientation and order matter greatly.

In what orientation order are you currently presenting options to people?

Can this be improved by changing the orientation in some cases?

Takeaway image
3
3

Use to nudge better choices

A recent project by Behavioural Insights Team and Nesta utilised Centre-Stage Effect to nudge smaller portion sizes by 22%.

Another study (Keller et al, 2015) showed that as well as portion sizes, Centre-Stage can, amongst other things, be used to nudge healthier product choices. Healthier choices increased from 13.3% to 36.7% by placing them centrally.

What better choices do you want to help people make? Presented horizontally, put these in the middle to increase their selection.

Takeaway image
4
4

The gift-buyer booster

It was also found that the Centre-Stage Effect is stronger when consumers are making purchase decisions for others (e.g. buying a gift, or food for a dinner you’re hosting).

Are any products you're selling predominately bought as gifts? What orientation are you presenting them in? Help people choose the 'most gifted' product by placing it centrally in a horizontal set.

Takeaway image

The gift-buyer booster

It was also found that the Centre-Stage Effect is stronger when consumers are making purchase decisions for others (e.g. buying a gift, or food for a dinner you’re hosting).

Are any products you're selling predominately bought as gifts? What orientation are you presenting them in? Help people choose the 'most gifted' product by placing it centrally in a horizontal set.

Takeaway image
Centre-Stage Effect

Centre-Stage Effect

We prefer the middle option in a horizontal set of choices

In direct opposition to vertical lists, the middle option is preferred within a horizontal list. This is due to our central gaze and a naive belief that middle options are better or more important.

The study

Setup

155 people were shown a cocktail menu, with 5 options listed either vertically or horizontally. They were then asked which drink they'd prefer.

Results

In great contrast with those with a vertical menu, those with the horizontal menu were far more likely to choose a drink in its centre (26.5%) than at its edges (10%).

study graph
np_read_2490885_000000

In detail

Did you know of the fascinating study of winners of the popular gameshow The Weakest Link (Raghubir & Valenzuela, 2006)?

Researchers found that contestants randomly assigned to a central position in the semi-circle tv set design were 45% likely to win the show over those positioned at the edges, who were only 10% likely.

Multiple studies have shown a bias like this to prefer central options over ones at the extremes, in what's called "edge aversion".

There are two key mechanics underpinning Centre-Stage:

1. Central gaze:

Eye-tracking research has shown us to have a tendency to give more attention naturally to what is directly in front of our eyes (Atalay, Bodur, and Rasolofoarison, 2012)

2. The "Centre is Best" belief:

Where we feel that options placed in the middle are somehow better or more popular than those that them. This may be driven by how we use cues around group status, authority and attractiveness and how we then map these beliefs onto unrelated items so as to make the 'best' choice.

Certainly, Weakest Link contestants are no less subject to this phenomenon than supermarket shoppers.

One wonders, if the tv set was creatively redesigned so that contestants would be stacked vertically, how their odds of winning might be a little better if they were up top, seen as gods looking down on the rest.

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