Why do we run counterclockwise?

Lately I have started to go jogging around the Emperor’s palace and around Yoyogi Park. One of the first things that grabbed my attention when I started was that EVERYBODY runs in a counterclockwise direction, something which is kind of mysterious because we are talking about people who usually jog anywhere in the city where there are no rules that say in which direction to run.
Maybe they do it because they try to imitate track & field athletics and almost any other kind of race where the running direction is always counterclockwise or maybe is there any other underlying reason?
I have been asking many people and “researching” online and it seems like there’s not much consensus about it; the best answers I found are from the research of a construction professor at Waseda University here in Tokyo.

Professor Watanabe Hitoshi devoted many years of his life to research about which is the best way to design stairs and emergency exits. He reached a point in his research where he had to decide if it was better to design stairs that you have to go down clockwise or counterclockwise. Experiments had been carried out previously and it was known that there is tendency to turn counterclockwise, for example, if you cover you eyes and try to walk straight almost always you will end up walking a little bit to the left. But Mr. Watanabe wanted to investigate more:

  • 1.- Most of human beings are right handed.
  • 2.- Most of left-handed people are right-footed, while most of the right-handed people are also right-footed.
  • 3.- Most of human beings have slightly longer right leg than left leg.

These three factors make our right leg to be dominant over the left leg, which causes a tendency to turn to the left, and to be able to run faster and more comfortable in a counterclockwise direction. He also found out that:

  • 4.- Humans walk instinctively protecting the left part of their body (for example by putting their left part of the body nearer to walls) because our heart is in the center-left part of our chest
  • 5.- Drifting to the left is basically human nature, and running in a counterclockwise direction practically an instinct.

Mr. Watanabe carried out a lot of experiments and observations to reach these conclusions. For example, he found out that in public places with big crowds although it seems that people move randomly, around 75% of the people follow paths drifting to the left (counterclockwise direction). This is very interesting if you want to know the best location for your restaurant/shop/business! He also found out through an experiment that when people is being chased and trying to escape, they turn to the left unconsciously 70% of the times.
When you jog you do it clockwise or counterclockwise? Emergency stair in your building are set up in a clockwise or counterclockwise way?

Sources:

6 Comments
  • Jon Claerbout

    December 6, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    While you are at it, you might think about why people (in America, anyway) mount a bicycle, motorcycle, or a horse from its left side.

  • Dach

    December 6, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    I’ve always postulated that it had something to do with the Coriolis Effect, and that people living in, say, Australia, might go clockwise if their society had not been created by people in the Northern Hemisphere who forced their Widdershins ways upon them.

  • Yarra

    December 6, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    I wonder if this is a manifestation of “pseudoneglect”, which is a general perceptual leftward bias most people have (especially right-handers), probably as a result of the dominance of the left side of the brain. For example, most people will bisect a line slightly to the left of centre. There have been quite a few studies on this (e.g. here).

  • Jamaipanese

    December 6, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    Interesting and educational post, I might do some experiments of my own

  • dans

    December 7, 2009 at 6:42 am

    never thought about it before. interesting research.

  • oliphant

    December 19, 2009 at 7:03 am

    ive always wondered why in some countries people keep to the left on the escalator, and others will keep to the right. road rules too.