The Coriolis effect, trouser leg preference, and human rotation

Theoretical and practical investigations have shown that the ‘Coriolis effect’ (see video above) can substantially influence physical systems such as the trajectory of cannon balls and the rotation of meteorological phenomena. But very little research has addressed the issue of whether it might also affect human behaviour. For example, might the Coriolis effect affect which direction you stir liquids in a pot or cup? Or which way you prefer to rotate (figure skater style)?

By way of an online survey, a research team from the University of Cambridge department of psychiatry  (Dr. Jan Stochl, Research Associate, and Dr. Tim Croudace, Senior Lecturer) asked questions of 1526 respondents in 97 countries – questions such as :

• “Imagine someone calls at you directly behind your back. Which direction do you prefer to turn around?”

• “Which direction do you stir liquids in a pot or cup?”

• “Try or imagine you jump and spin around at the same time (like figure skaters do). Which direction would you rotate?”

• “Which leg do you put in your trousers first when you are getting dressed/clothed?”

Crucially, the survey also requested information about the physical location(s) of the respondents. Thus the researchers were able to classify them in as either in the Northern or Southern hemispheres (where the Coriolis effect has opposite effects). Analysis of the results revealed (possibly for the first time) that :

“Geospatial location does not predict the preferred direction of rotation […] and excludes the Coriolis effect as a predictor of rotation.”

The team’s paper ‘Predictors of human rotation’ is scheduled for future publication in the scholarly journal  Laterality.

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