The Centre-Stage Effect is the way in which, when faced with a range or products presented side by side, we tend to be drawn towards the one situated in the middle. Valenzuela & Raghubir (2009) found that people tended to consider those products placed in the centre (of a shop window or on a shelf, etc.) as being the most popular, thinking that if these are the ones chosen to be placed in a prominent position then it must be because they’re a popular choice amongst other buyers. This central positioning is a social signal that leads us to have a bias towards that particular product and therefore be more likely to choose it. Research has shown that the Centre-Stage Effect is even more pronounced when we’re buying something for someone else. This idea that it’s a popular choice amongst other buyers becomes even more important for us as, in effect, we are buying for someone else and so the opinion of others is vital.
Rodway, Schepman and Lambert (2012) conducted a series of studies on this phenomenon and found that the Centre-Stage Effect comes in to play once all the elements in the “line-up” are of a similar nature, whether that be in essence or simply visually (meaning the same style of imagery on a website for example). Whether or not the line-up is vertical or horizontal, or consists of real-life products or online imagery, seems to have no effect on the outcome. During their research they showed participants identical white socks lined up vertically in front of them as well as a selection of images showing similar objects displayed horizontally on a webpage and in both cases the majority of participants chose those that were in the middle.
The Centre-Stage Effect has numerous applications in advertising, business and marketing. This bias suggests that by positioning a product that we wish to attract attention to (such as a new product, a more expensive item, etc.) in the centre, we can almost assure that it will be noticed favourably by customers. For online marketplaces such as Amazon and EBay, the knowledge of this bias means they are also able to charge higher rates for those brands or products that wish to be featured in the centre of their displays.