A new study suggests that people prefer southern travel routes to northern routes. Why? Apparently, we associate north with "up" and things that are "up" are harder to get to, elevated, more difficult to attain, or physically more demanding. According to Tufts University psychologist Tad Brunyé, also of the U.S. Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command, volunteers in the study estimated that it would take much longer to drive between locations when traveling south to north instead of the opposite way. From Science News:
Real-world experiences underlie avoidance of northern routes, Brunyé proposes. Young children learn that as objects and locations get higher, they become harder to attain. Examples include reaching for a toy on the counter, climbing the stairs and jumping.
An ingrained notion that "up is difficult" then gets applied to other situations. When someone imagines traversing a northern and a southern path, the northern way feels higher and more physically demanding, Brunyé suggests.
Another phenomenon might account for the new findings, remarks psychologist Stella Lourenco of Emory University in Atlanta, who was not involved in the study. From infancy on, people categorize different quantities – say, the numbers 2 and 4 or a big and a small object – as instances of "less than" and "more than." Also, adults tend to associate larger numbers with "up" and smaller numbers with "down."
If volunteers equated a northern route's greater height on a computer screen with "more than" and a southern route's lower position as "less than," that could explain a southern bias, Lourenco says.