Look Out! Threats From Left Are More Menacing

Studies show people worry less about things on their right

By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 2, 2014 5:42 PM CDT

(Newser) – Don't look now—especially to your left, because that's where things seem scarier. So say University of Utah researchers who found that people reacted with greater alarm when faced with tornadoes, traffic, dog poop, and homeless people appearing on their left. Here are examples of their still-unpublished studies, described in an email to LiveScience:

  • Students shown maps of two cities were more likely to say they would evacuate when earthquakes were in the city on the left, and students inhabited the city on the right, than vice versa (5.21 out of 7 over 4.72 out of 7).
  • At a dangerous crosswalk in Bucaramanga, Colombia, people crossed at an average of 6.05 seconds when traffic was on their left and 6.32 seconds when it was on their right—perhaps indicating they worried more about the former and walked faster.
  • Seated in a row of chairs with a "grungy-looking homeless man" at one end, people sat 5.06 chairs away on average when he was on their left, and 4.32 chairs away when on their right.

Why the difference? Well, maybe people who read left-to-right think threats from the left appear "in line with the flow"; maybe it has to do with right-handedness and brain hemispheres—they're not sure. In other psychology news, a North Carolina professor says certain religious people are prone to an obsessive-compulsive disorder called scrupulosity—a fear of sin or punishment from deities, CNN reports.

  (Shutterstock)
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