Why Super Mario runs from left to right

Why Super Mario runs from left to right

There may be a fundamental bias in the way people prefer to see moving items depicted in pictures according to research.

An analysis of photos of people and objects in motion revealed a common left-to-right .

Psychologist Dr Peter Walker of Lancaster University said this widespread evidence for such a left-to-right bias could indicate a possible fundamental bias for visual motion, and would explain why all the main characters in the side-scrolling video games popular in the 1980s and 1990s (eg Super Mario) run from left to right.

He inspected thousands of items in Google Images for his research published in Perception.

He said: "What artistic conventions are used to convey the motion of animate and inanimate items in still images, such as drawings and photographs? One graphic convention involves depicting items leaning forward into their movement, with greater leaning conveying greater speed. Another convention, revealed in the present study, involves depicting items moving from left to right."

However, this bias does not apply to people or objects which are stationary.

"Whereas a rightward bias is found for photographs of animate and inanimate items in motion (more so the faster is the motion being conveyed), either no bias or a leftward bias is found for the same items in static pose. This could indicate a fundamental left-to-right bias for ."

This left-to-right bias is also observed when designers italicize text to convey notions of motion and speed.

It even applies to typography in Hebrew where the reader's eyes scan from right-to-left.

"It was the inspection of the availability of italic fonts in Hebrew that suggested an additional artistic convention for conveying , based on a fundamental bias, confirmed in the present study, for people to expect to see, or prefer to see, lateral movement (real or implied) in a left to right direction, rather than a right to left direction."


Explore further

Perceptual motion bias helps humans interpret vague motion information

More information: Walker P, 2015, "Depicting visual motion in still images: Forward leaning and a left to right bias for lateral movement" Perception 44(2) 111 – 128. www.perceptionweb.com/abstract.cgi?id=/p7897
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Mar 13, 2015
My first guess would be that it is because we read from left to right.
I think there are some languages that are written from right to left. Did your study poll those people?

Mar 13, 2015
I believe this phenomenon correlates with the noted left-to-right bias of the so-called mental number line - our apparently innate propensity to represent increasing magnitudes from left-to-to-right, or over / under estimate magnitudes even when physically leaning left or right.

This too seems to supercede contrary cultural biases - for instance Farsi, a right-to-left script, nonetheless still represents numbers from left-to-right.

So what is common to increasing numbers, magnitudes, and motion? The more fundamental category seems to be one of 'progression', in some sense.

Does the clockwise progression of a clock's hands also correlate here? Progress bars in computer operating systems? Ditto Grand Prix starting lights... all manner of graphs depicting progress - such as the classic monkey following an Australopithecus, following a man.

More research is warranted here. I suspect the sizes of temporal integration windows have a L/R lateralisation bias..

Mar 13, 2015
My first guess would be that it is because we read from left to right.
I think there are some languages that are written from right to left. Did your study poll those people?

The article clearly states that the research was inspired by the observation that Hebrew, written right-to-left, still italicises left-to-right.

Mar 13, 2015
The convention in physics, especially Special Relativity, is to consider the motion of objects from Left to Right.

Mar 13, 2015
It's related to the locality "spin" of our solar system...
within the galactic "spin"...

Mar 14, 2015
It's related to the locality "spin" of our solar system...
within the galactic "spin"...

LOL very good... so denizens of any planet revolving the other way might have a right-left bias? What about folks in the southern hemisphere? And are those living on the equator more ambidextrous? Compelling questions. I'll not sleep easy tonight..

Mar 14, 2015
LOL very good...

Thanks, Mr. V... It'll all be in my upcoming, soon to be released TOE...:-)
so denizens of any planet revolving the other way might have a right-left bias?

quite so... or possible even up and down, depending on how much they lay down or stand up.
What about folks in the southern hemisphere?

Notice how those actually born in the southern hemisphere think a little differently then the "northerners"?
And are those living on the equator more ambidextrous?

Insufficient data at this point, but they do seem a lot more easy going... (in the islands, at least)
Compelling questions. I'll not sleep easy tonight..

You get to sleep?
BTW, I think Vonnegut might have approved this line of thought, even if Verkle doesn't...
(maybe he needs to move to an equatorial region...;-))
Sleep well, m'friend...
Keep calm - and vibrate on...

Mar 14, 2015
And interesting follow-up study would do a historical analysis of pre-war Japan (when horizontal print was right to left), Arabic-speaking countries, and any others where writing is right to left.

If it turned out that imagery in those cultures or at those times had a leftward bias, I'd wager that the influence is in the writing system, not in a "fundamental" bias.

I haven't read the study, but I saw no mention of any of this in the article. Someone please correct me if I missed anything.

Mar 14, 2015
My first guess would be that it is because we read from left to right.
I think there are some languages that are written from right to left. Did your study poll those people?

The article clearly states that the research was inspired by the observation that Hebrew, written right-to-left, still italicises left-to-right.


This is true, but it wouldn't be very scientific to take only the example of italics in a single right-to-left language and conclude that this is how things must be.

In order to eliminate any ethnocentric bias from our science, it would be in our best interest to observe as many languages and cultures as possible--and the less westernized, the better.

Mar 14, 2015
The study was INSPIRED by a single observation, not an a prior conclusion that leftwards italicising has a physiological basis. For the scripts you mention they'd need to already have an italicising convention, which itself is unlikely to be universal. However the point of the study concerns depictions of motion, and isn't concerned primarily with writing - and many of the early 8-bit scrollers were of course Japanese in origin.

Muddying the waters somewhat, an argument could be made that to read a right-to-left script while holding the eye stationary, the writing itself needs to be scrolled from left-to-right..

I would suggest a culturally-neutral cognitive test - for instance, a simple scrolling game whereby the player has to dodge scrolling obstacles by moving a dot / spaceship or whatever, up and down. The scrolling speed could be gradually increased until failure. Run a battery of tests for left-to-right and vice versa, against subjects from a variety of cultures...

Mar 14, 2015
Another thing (or two) to consider. Eye dominance.
In a predominately right eye dominant world, why do westerners prefer reading that requires the right eye to look ACROSS the page to start? And then move to the right?
Because "pulling" it open is easier than "pushing" it open...
(Simple energy economics...)

Mar 14, 2015
The study was INSPIRED by a single observation...


I think you're missing my point. I am suggesting further investigation to eliminate the possibility that there is a correlation between language direction and the direction of motion most often shown in media in the same culture. This has nothing to do with italics.

Also, Super Mario Brothers was released in 1985. As I said, most Japanese print has been left to right since after the second world war. Prior to that, it was right to left. Prior to that it was top to bottom, right to left.

I would suggest a culturally-neutral cognitive test


That would be fine too, but I don't think this invalidates my point that it's worth investigating a cultural link.

Mar 14, 2015
Actually, I have to correct myself--novels are still top-bottom, right-left. But I think it's safe to say that the vast majority of horizontal text in Japan today moves to the right, as opposed to to the left in the prewar era.

PS3
Mar 15, 2015
Shigeru Miyamoto is left handed. Same reason why all console controllers use movement with left hand.

Mar 15, 2015
Not very scientific but Google "Japanese art" and click on images - much of which depicts motion, and tally up the leftwards / rightwards counts. There does seem to be a bias towards rightwards, though much of it is still leftwards bound..

I think aside from cultural bias, it would be interesting to see how handedness of the artists correlates to any such preferences...

The thought also arises that perhaps tests of attempting to walk in a straight line while blindfolded might throw up a correlation, but apparently not, upon checking PhysOrg's archives - the same subjects were just as likely to veer left, as right..

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