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From Business Insider (and several other sources, albeit with debatable credibility):

Research suggests you should avoid the middle stalls at all costs. A wealth of research shows that, given several equally good (or gross) options, people tend to choose the middle one. Psychologists call this "centrality preference".

Are people more likely to use central stalls than stalls at the extremities?

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  • Mythbusters "confirmed" this in 2013. "Confirmed" is in quotes because their methods are not robust enough to be considered definitive. Oct 11, 2022 at 19:06

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The paper Christenfeld, Choices from identical options, Psychological Science, 1995 (pdf) made observations as follows:

A public restroom at a California state beach was used for this study. The men's room had four identically sized stalls, and each stall had four identical toilet paper dispensers. The stalls were side by side, with Stall A closest to the door. The toilet paper dispensers were lined up in a horizontal row on the occupant's right.

They enumerated the results as follows:

tabulated results from Christenfeld's paper showing a preference for the middle bathroom stalls: stall A (closest to door): 22%; B: 31%; C: 29%; D: 17%

Here's a color-coded version:

Color-coded version of the previous image

So they observed a preference for the middle bathroom stalls (along with the middle toilet paper dispensers).

More generally, this phenomenon appears to be also known as the center stage effect, and is used in marketing psychology.

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    It could just be that people who lean middle use more toilet paper. Oct 12, 2022 at 19:04
  • It could also be that people are more likely to have to go to the middle to find a toilet that's not disgusting. Do we have any information about just how clean these bathrooms were? Were the toilets really "identical"?
    – Kyralessa
    Apr 27, 2023 at 11:40

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