Bruce Bower in Science News:
People making travel plans may unwittingly heed a strange rule of thumb — southern routes rule. In a new experiment, volunteers chose paths that dipped south over routes of the same distance that arched northward, perhaps because northern routes intuitively seem uphill and thus more difficult, researchers suggest.
Volunteers also estimated that it would take considerably longer to drive between the same pairs of U.S. cities if traveling from south to north, as opposed to north to south, says psychologist and study director Tad Brunyé of the U.S. Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command in Natick, Mass., and Tufts University in Medford, Mass. For journeys that averaged 798 miles, time estimates for north-going jaunts averaged one hour and 39 minutes more than south-going trips, he and his colleagues report in an upcoming Memory & Cognition.
“This finding suggests that when people plan to travel across long distances, a ‘north is up’ heuristic might compromise their accuracy in estimating trip durations,” Brunyé says.
Only individuals who adopted a first-person, ground-level perspective treated southern routes as the paths of least resistance, he notes. From this vantage, one moves forward and back, right and left.