The first two times I sat on a bench at Jamaica Pond and counted how many people were going left or right, one direction edged out the other by a statistically insignificant margin. I figured there was probably little difference. But I continued my count and, after 10 more two-hour sittings, the findings were decisive with one direction predominating every time, often by a wide margin. In total, 25 percent more folks turn right when they reach the path and proceed in a counterclockwise direction.
I wondered why?
One person suggested it was more attractive in the clockwise direction. Another, that walking counter you didn’t get sun in your eyes, because the opposite shore is shaded. A friend of mine said, “Right turns are easier when we’re driving, so we turn right.” Maybe he’s onto something. In the US, driving on the right began in the horse and buggy era.
Baseball, track, horse and auto racing run counterclockwise. So do promenade decks on cruise ships and even the hajj in Mecca as well as people at the recent Lantern Parade at the pond. Maybe it’s because most of the world is right-handed. (About ten to one; there are no reliable figures.) I read that left-handed people generally draw circles clockwise and right-handers, the opposite.
When I showed a real estate consultant my results, he told me buildings are designed with the knowledge that most people walk to the right (counterclockwise). An architect confirmed that. But nobody could tell me if the same holds true in countries like Great Britain, where people drive on the left. Horses run clockwise there. Card and board games, many originating in England, flow clockwise as well.
If any of you know which direction people tend to walk in Great Britain or any of the 53 left-hand driving countries, do tell.
I began my “pocket surveys” because I’m curious about many things I can’t Google the answers to. Even if I could, it’s more fun observing and charting behaviors we may not notice in ourselves. It’s also engaging to talk with neighbors face to face to find out more about who we are here in JP.
(To see the numbers and methodology, please go to my website: gustafberger.com.)
EXTRA: Couples represented approximately one third of people circling the pond. Male/female accounted for 60 percent of couples. Female/female: 30 percent Male/male:10 percent.
Gustaf Berger is a writer living in Jamaica Plain. He is the author of “Death Postponed.”