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When faced with a choice, which stall do you select in a public bathroom? Typically, you’d enter any one that appears reasonably clean and hope for the best, right? But let’s take the guessing game out of this dire dilemma. Little did you know, science can actually help you choose the cleanest stall, statistically speaking.
Research suggests that you should avoid the middle stalls if possible. Why? When given any slate of equal options, people tend to choose the middle one—a little habit that psychologists call “centrality preference.”
While the centrality preference can apply to a range of choices, it goes for public bathrooms, too. A 1995 paper published in the journal Psychological Science examined the restroom habits of beach-goers in coastal California.
After teaming up with a local custodian, psychologist Nicholas Christenfeld tracked how often the toilet paper was changed in each of four stalls for 10 weeks.
His results: While 60 percent of finished rolls came from the middle stalls, only 40 percent came from those at the ends. That indicates that far more people used the stalls in the middle than random probability might anticipate.
Still, just because fewer people use an end stall, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s cleaner. They may tend to be messier or cleaned less often, so people avoid them—hence the lack of turnover.
Nevertheless, it can’t hurt to be just a little more cautious about your stall selection next time.