I am wondering if any research has been done on whether human beings tend to turn left or right more often (say when attempting to traverse a virtual maze.)

As a subquestion that need not necessarily be answered I am curious whether physiological or cultural factors (I was thinking handedness and whether the subjects first language was written right-to-left or left-to-right) might possibly have some influence.

I feel like I have heard something about this, and even seem to remember that people tended to turn right more often than not. My primary question is whether this is apocryphal or have there actually been scientific studies on this?

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    It was informally explained to me by an US resident that people entering shops tend to head to the right to start browsing first, and, due to the differing shopping habits of men versus women, US fashion stores put their men's clothes always on the left side of the store. In Australia, fashion stores always put their men's clothes on the left [Ref: personal experience], suggesting either people's preferences are guided by local road traffic rules, or that it is merely a different convention without any basis and this data is merely anecdotal. – Oddthinking Jul 30 '11 at 8:04
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    I'm finding a lot of claims (often referencing Paco Underhill), to suggest US shoppers turn right, but nothing that's been peer-reviewed. Please tell me this guy is joking... – Oddthinking Jul 30 '11 at 8:06
  • It's a well known fact that when walking (traveling large distance) people have a tendency to turn in a specific (IIRC) right direction instead of walking straight; in the absence of landmarks/orientatonal markers. The knowledge preceeds shopping malls :))) No studies handy at the moment so it's a comment only. – user5341 Jul 30 '11 at 12:50
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    This study: cell.com/current-biology/retrieve/pii/S0960982209014791 indicates that people walk in circles (unless they have visual cues), but the direction varies. Is that kind of what you are looking for? – nalgenegirl Aug 1 '11 at 2:36
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    @DVK: actually in that case it's they walk in circles, by the direction is random. "In a follow-up experiment, the researchers challenged 15 people to walk straight while blindfolded. When they couldn't see at all, the walkers ended up going in surprisingly small circles -- with a diameter of less than 66 feet. In repeated attempts, blindfolded walkers circled in one direction sometimes and in the opposite direction other times." news.discovery.com/human/walking-circles.html – vartec Aug 1 '11 at 11:02

The only reference with sources I found is this cracked article.


Entry number 5. Supermarket definitely use it a lot.

Also from several years of video gaming experience and observation of playing habits of others the pattern while exploring mazes - turn right till there is no more right turns, then backtrack to last intersection and then take other roads is very common. Maybe it can be found in driving lanes explanation - in most of the world while driving the right turn is very cheap and efficient - so this may imprint patterns in movement.


Technically, I would think that most people would involuntarily turn right seeing as most people –– approximately seventeen out of twenty –– are right handed and think in a right-dominant manner. Thinking back on it, most right-handed or self-proclaiming ambidextrous people will say, though, that they usually turn left, but the truth is, we naturally turn right more often than we think seeing as it is mostly a natural reaction rather than one we usually think long and hard about. Because all of the influences in the modern outside world –– for instance, roads (in some countries they drive on the left side; I wonder how that got started?), shaking hands with the right hand, spiral notebooks, and the supermarket example –– it probably has been wired in our minds that right is the correct way to turn. Being ambidextrous and left-inclined myself, these things confuse me, and sometimes I wonder if, before different races of people from different countries intermixed, there could have been entire countries and groups of separate people who were all completely lefties, or in which being a righty would be the oddity. But on the contrary, research shows that even if two left-handed parents have a child, there is only a 50% chance that this baby will turn out to be left-handed, while if two right-handed parents have a child there is a drastic 2% chance. Okay, that was really off subject. But the point is clear. We are a right-inclined society, hence we automatically turn right.

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    Welcome to Skeptics Stack Exchange! We require answers to reference every significant claim they make, please update your answer and add references to support it. – Mad Scientist Jun 12 '13 at 13:48
  • Try to keep your language neutral, and reference any facts you have. First you need a reference to people turning direction depending on their primary hand, then a reference to babies being born left vs right handed, and all things you spawn from that. – Wertilq Jun 12 '13 at 16:04

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