Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


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

October 21 • 12:00 PM

How Clever Do You Think Your Dog Is?

Maybe as smart as a four-year-old child?


October 21 • 10:00 AM

Converting the Climate Change Non-Believers

When hard science isn’t enough, what can be done?



October 21 • 8:00 AM

Education Policy Is Stuck in the Manufacturing Age

Refining our policies and teaching social and emotional skills will help us to generate sustained prosperity.


October 21 • 7:13 AM

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you’ve (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.


October 21 • 6:00 AM

Fruits and Vegetables Are About to Enter a Flavor Renaissance

Chefs are teaming up with plant breeders to revitalize bland produce with robust flavors and exotic beauty—qualities long neglected by industrial agriculture.


October 21 • 4:00 AM

She’s Cheating on Him, You Can Tell Just by Watching Them

New research suggests telltale signs of infidelity emerge even in a three- to five-minute video.


October 21 • 2:00 AM

Cheating Demographic Doom: Pittsburgh Exceptionalism and Japan’s Surprising Economic Resilience

Don’t judge a metro or a nation-state by its population numbers.


October 20 • 4:00 PM

The Bird Hat Craze That Sparked a Preservation Movement

How a fashion statement at the turn of the 19th century led to the creation of the first Audubon societies.


October 20 • 2:00 PM

The Risk of Getting Killed by the Police If You Are White, and If You Are Black

An analysis of killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males.


October 20 • 12:00 PM

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they’re motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.


October 20 • 11:00 AM

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.


October 20 • 10:00 AM

Homophobia Is Not a Thing of the Past

Despite growing support for LGBT rights and recent decisions from the Supreme Court regarding the legality of same-sex marriage, the battle for acceptance has not yet been decided.


October 20 • 8:00 AM

Big Boobs Matter Most

Medical mnemonics are often scandalous and sexist, but they help the student to both remember important facts and cope with challenging new experiences.


October 20 • 6:00 AM

When Disease Becomes Political: The Likely Electoral Fallout From Ebola

Will voters blame President Obama—and punish Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections—for a climate of fear?


October 20 • 4:00 AM

Coming Soon: The Anatomy of Ignorance


October 17 • 4:00 PM

What All Military Families Need to Know About High-Cost Lenders

Lessons from over a year on the beat.


October 17 • 2:00 PM

The Majority of Languages Do Not Have Gendered Pronouns

A world without “he.” Or “she.”


October 17 • 11:01 AM

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.


October 17 • 10:00 AM

Can Science Fiction Spur Science Innovation?

Without proper funding, the answer might not even matter.


October 17 • 8:00 AM

Seattle, the Incredible Shrinking City

Seattle is leading the way in the micro-housing movement as an affordable alternative to high-cost city living.


October 17 • 6:00 AM

‘Voodoo Death’ and How the Mind Harms the Body

Can an intense belief that you’re about to die actually kill you? Researchers are learning more about “voodoo death” and how it isn’t limited to superstitious, foreign cultures.


October 17 • 4:00 AM

That Arts Degree Is Paying Off

A survey of people who have earned degrees in the arts find they are doing relatively well, although their education didn’t provide much guidance on managing a career.


October 16 • 4:00 PM

How (Some) Economists Are Like Doomsday Cult Members

Cognitive dissonance and clinging to paradigms even in the face of accumulated anomalous facts.


October 16 • 2:00 PM

The Latest—and Most Mysterious—Player in the Nasty Battle Over Net Neutrality

As the FCC considers how to regulate Internet providers, the telecom industry’s stealth campaign for hearts and minds encompasses everything from art installations to LOLcats.


Follow us


That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

Advice for Emergency Alert Systems: Don’t Cry Wolf

A survey finds college students don't always take alerts seriously.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

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