Brain preference biases ballot sheets

The human brain’s tendency to gravitate towards the left when paying attention gives an unintended advantage to groups of candidates who drew a left-hand position in the 1 November 2007 Senate ballot draw, says a University of Melbourne researcher.

Associate Professor Mike Nicholls, from the School of Behavioural Science, is a behavioural neuroscientist and editor of the international journal Laterality.

He says the human brain’s tendency to gravitate to the left, plus the fact that English is read from left-to-right, could give candidates who draw a left hand column on the Senate ballot a 0.5 to 1 per cent advantage.

“Many people would have heard of the donkey vote where people place a number in the first box irrespective of the candidate,’’ he says. “Our research suggests that the first box on the left is the most likely to attract voters’ attention.”

Associate Professor Nicholls says when a human pays attention to objects in space, the right hemisphere of their brain is activated – causing them to focus more strongly on the left-hand side.

“It is the same phenomenon that increases the frequency of collisions on the right hand side of a door when walking through it, or using a wheelchair, " he says.

Associate Professor Nicholls says the leftward bias has also been shown in studies that test people’s responses to likert scales commonly used in market and social research.

He says randomised computer voting, in which candidates' names appear in different configurations before voters, would be a way of overcoming the leftward bias. 

Editor's Note: Original news release can be found here.