Menus Subscribe Search

Bedroom Layouts Reflect Ancestors’ Preferences

• August 05, 2010 • 10:50 AM

German researchers find evolutionary logic behind the way we lay out our bedrooms.

As evolutionary psychologists persistently point out, vestiges of our prehistoric past often turn up in unexpected places. Newly published research suggests one of them may be your bedroom.

A German study finds our preferences regarding the placement of bedroom furniture reflect the safety concerns of our distant ancestors. According to the paper, just published in the online journal Evolutionary Psychology, our choice of room layout is remarkably consistent with the physical environment prehistoric men and women preferred.

University of Munich psychologists Matthias Spörrle and Jennifer Stich conducted an experiment featuring 138 volunteers, divided in half between men and women. (Median age was just under 30.) Each was presented with one of four floor plans for a bedroom.

Half of the rooms featured a door that opened to the right; the others had a door that opened to the left. Half had a window; the rest did not. Participants were presented with movable symbols representing items of furniture — a bed, table and chair — and asked to arrange the room to their liking.

Spörrle and Stich were curious to see whether their choices would reflect an ingrained urge to feel safe from predators. Although our earliest human ancestors slept under somewhat different conditions — for one thing, they did not spend much time worrying about the thread counts of their linens — the researchers argue we think of our bedrooms “in a similar way as our ancestors might have perceived, for instance, caves and their entrances.”

They note that, for cave dwellers, nighttime safety “can be maximized by choosing a sleeping place that (a) allows one to detect a potential aggressor as early as possible, (b) allows one to remain hidden from the aggressor as long as possible, and (c) allows for maximum reaction time in case of an attack.” Are our design choices driven by those same ingrained needs?

The study suggests they are indeed. Spörrle and Stich found 83 percent of the participants “positioned the bed in such a way that it offered a view of the door from the resting position,” allowing them to quickly recognize an intruder.

Seventy percent of the participants “positioned the bed to the wall opposite the door without leaving space between bed and wall,” they report. “Hence, a significant majority of the participants chose the maximum possible distance between bed and door.”

Finally, 74 percent positioned the door on the left side of the room if the door opened to the left, while 64 percent positioned it on the right side of the room if the door opened to the right. This placement allows those in bed to detect when the door is opened “without being immediately visible to the person entering the room.”

The evolutionary roots of these preferences are clear enough: Early men and women who adopted this safe-sleeping approach were more likely to survive and reproduce, so we are effectively their descendants. But are there other, more mundane explanations for these likes and dislikes?

Spörrle and Stich argue such preferences are “difficult to explain purely in terms of considerations of functionality.” They grant that positioning of the bed might “be influenced by intentions to avoid a draft” emanating from the room’s entrance. But moving the bed as far from the door as possible, and choosing to sleep at the side of the room to which the door opens, are both “counter to convenience,” since they result in “a longer walk to open the door.”

Eye-opening stuff, to be sure, especially since this appears to be the first study to ever examine this issue. One question remains, however: Do these evolutionary imperatives overlap with the ancient – and trendy – precepts of Feng Shui? Comparing the two could make for a fascinating follow-up.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 2 • 4:00 PM

Professors’ Pet Peeves

Ten things to avoid in your classrooms this year.


September 2 • 2:00 PM

Music Lessons Enhance Brain Function in Disadvantaged Kids

Children from poor neighborhoods in Los Angeles who took regular music lessons for two years were able to distinguish similar speech sounds faster than their peers.


September 2 • 12:00 PM

California Passes a Bill to Protect Workers in the Rapidly Growing Temp Staffing Industry

The bill will hold companies accountable for labor abuses by temp agencies and subcontractors they use.


September 2 • 10:00 AM

SWAT Pranks and SWAT Mistakes

The proliferation of risky police raids over the decades.


September 2 • 9:12 AM

Conference Call: The Graphic Novel


September 2 • 8:00 AM

Why We’re Not Holding State Legislators Accountable

The way we vote means that the political fortunes of state legislators hinge on events outside of their state and their control.


September 2 • 7:00 AM

When Men Who Abstain From Premarital Sex Get Married

Young men who take abstinence pledges have trouble adjusting to sexual norms when they become husbands.


September 2 • 6:00 AM

The Rise of Biblical Counseling

For millions of Christians, biblical counselors have replaced psychologists. Some think it’s time to reverse course.


September 2 • 5:12 AM

No Innovation Without Migration

People bring their ideas with them when they move from place to place.


September 2 • 4:00 AM

Why Middle School Doesn’t Have to Suck

Some people suspect the troubles of middle school are a matter of age. Middle schoolers, they think, are simply too moody, pimply, and cliquish to be easily educable. But these five studies might convince you otherwise.


September 2 • 3:13 AM

Coming Soon: When Robots Lie


September 2 • 2:00 AM

Introducing the New Issue of ‘Pacific Standard’

The science of self-control, the rise of biblical counseling, why middle school doesn’t have to suck, and more in our September/October 2014 print issue.


September 1 • 1:00 PM

Television and Overeating: What We Watch Matters

New research finds fast-moving programming leads to mindless overeating.



September 1 • 6:00 AM

Why Someone Named Monty Iceman Sold Doogie Howser’s Estate

How unusual names, under certain circumstances, can lead to success.



August 29 • 4:00 PM

The Hidden Costs of Tobacco Debt

Even when taxpayers aren’t explicitly on the hook, tobacco bonds can cost states and local governments money. Here’s how.


August 29 • 2:00 PM

Why Don’t Men and Women Wear the Same Gender-Neutral Bathing Suits?

They used to in the 1920s.


August 29 • 11:48 AM

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.


August 29 • 10:00 AM

True Darwinism Is All About Chance

Though the rich sometimes forget, Darwin knew that nature frequently rolls the dice.


August 29 • 8:00 AM

Why Our Molecular Make-Up Can’t Explain Who We Are

Our genes only tell a portion of the story.


August 29 • 6:00 AM

Strange Situations: Attachment Theory and Sexual Assault on College Campuses

When college women leave home, does attachment behavior make them more vulnerable to campus rape?


August 29 • 4:00 AM

Forgive Your Philandering Partner—and Pay the Price

New research finds people who forgive an unfaithful romantic partner are considered weaker and less competent than those who ended the relationship.


August 28 • 4:00 PM

Some Natural-Looking Zoo Exhibits May Be Even Worse Than the Old Concrete Ones

They’re often designed for you, the paying visitor, and not the animals who have to inhabit them.


August 28 • 2:00 PM

What I Learned From Debating Science With Trolls

“Don’t feed the trolls” is sound advice, but occasionally ignoring it can lead to rewards.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

When Men Who Abstain From Premarital Sex Get Married

Young men who take abstinence pledges have trouble adjusting to sexual norms when they become husbands.

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.

The Big One

One third of the United States federal budget for fighting wildfires goes toward one percent of such fires. September/October 2014 big-one-fires-final

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.