It’s the weekend and you’re at your local shopping mall for a spot of retail therapy when nature calls. You find the nearest public bathroom and head inside, but which cubicle do you choose? Do you think about it and make a conscious choice, or do you simply take the first one that becomes available? And if you do make a conscious choice, what factors are at play when deciding?
I wondered whether those people who make a conscious choice base it on factors related to hygiene, or on something more personal. A quick poll of one - my husband - revealed that he would rather wait and use the bathroom at home (Ok, fair enough - I think so would most of us) but if he absolutely has to go he would choose the cubicle furthest from the bathroom entrance.
His logic? People are lazy and most won't walk to the end of a row of stalls, therefore that stall is more likely to have been used less, and therefore be cleaner. To avoid possible neighbours, he would also choose a cubicle with a wall and or/ and an empty cubicle next to it.
So it seems that a combination of hygiene and privacy concerns govern his logic. However, a book titled Research into the habits of public bathroom goers shows that my husband’s preference isn’t the norm. Faced with three empty cubicles, 40% of men would choose the middle one, 32% would choose right (furthest away) and 28% would choose the one nearest the door (closest).
This supports the notion that when given several equally good (or gross) options, people tend to choose the middle one. Psychologists call this "centrality preference." That means that most people who entered the bathroom before you did probably went for the middle cubicle and avoided the sides - supporting my husband’s logic that cubicles further away are likely to have been used less. Whether or not they are actually cleaner will of course largely depend on the quality of both the daily cleaning and the deep cleaning taking place. Both are important - read why, here.
A 1995 paper published in the journal Psychological Science examined the bathroom habits of beachgoers in California to see whether the centrality principle was behind people’s choice of cubicle. Using the rate at which toilet paper had to be replaced as a measure of usage, the results showed that while 60% of finished rolls came from the middle cubicles, only 40% came from those at the ends. That indicates that far more people used the cubicles in the middle than random probability might allow.
Whatever your personal preference - middle or end - make sure that every cubicle in your bathroom has the same high level of hygiene: our checklist for bathroom deep cleaning will show you where to start.