You're dining at your favorite bistro when suddenly nature calls. Rushing tothe restroom, you find a row of four empty stalls. All seem equally clean, are well stocked with toilet paper, and feature a similar assortment of amusing graffiti. Which are you most likely to choose?
a) one of the two middle stalls
b) one of the two end stalls
c) whichever is closest.
To discover the answer to this bit of toilet trivia, Nicholas Christenfeld, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of California, San Diego, monitored how often the men's room custodian at a California beach had to replace the toilet paper in each of the bathroom's four stalls. It turned out that 60 percent of the used-up rolls came from the middle stalls, rather than the 50 percent you'd expect if choosing a toilet were simply a matter of eenie-meenie-minie-moe.
But a mania for the middle extends well beyond the rest-room door. Faced with four rows of crackers on a supermarket shelf, two-thirds of shoppers will grab a box from one of the center two rows. And if you draw three circles on a sheet of paper and ask people to mark one with an X, half will choose the middle figure.