Three weeks ago, I was in an MGLC (McCormick Graduate Leadership Council) meeting, and we all sat in the same seats in which we have sat most of the quarter. However, there were no assigned seats, which got me to thinking: Why do people often sit in the same seat in places even when they are not assigned?
From early days, we have had the idea of “arbitrary” assignment. Whether it be seating charts in primary (and even secondary) school, season tickets to sporting events, or airplane tickets on non-Southwest flights, we have been conditioned to sit in the same seats on a repeated (or non-repeated, in the case of flights) basis.
The first time that I remember bucking this trend in quite an interesting way was in my junior year of high school, when I took AP Psychology with Mr. Mac. He explained that his classroom rules were lax: “you could sit wherever you want, and you don’t need permission to leave the room.” I decided to turn it into an experiment in a way: each day I sat in a different desk in the room. This was one of those portable classrooms, and there was a nonlinear arrangement of chairs: instead it was basically two triangles of desks, ample floor space, and even a futon! I moved from desk to desk each day, sometimes sat on the futon, and sometimes even sat on the floor itself!
Part of the psychology of sitting in the same seat, even when not assigned, might be some sort of specialized “mood-congruent memory.” When the choice of seat is self assigned instead of administratively assigned, especially when there is no fixed seating chart to be created, people may form an implicit attachment to that seat, ergo have a better mood when in that seat. Familiarity breeds comfort. (Granted, I am just grasping at straws here, as I am not a psychologist by trade 🙂 )
I have a few examples of non-assigned seats that are taken as if they are assigned:
* On Southwest flights, where seating is open, I always choose 21A if it is available and I am flying alone. Yes, perhaps because the number is important to me. (This could lead to a whole story about peoples’ rationale for choosing certain Southwest seats when the choice is available.)
* At Northwestern lacrosse games, with some of my friends, we always sit in the section next to the press box, fairly high up. It has become habit! (Granted, these are midfield seats, and there always seems to be something about being right at the center.
* When I go to בית-הלל\בני אמונה (Beth Hillel/Congregation B’nai Emunah: the synagogue in Wilmette), people tend to sit in the same seats. I take a seat on the right-hand side (facing the בימה (bimah)), in the next-to-back row, on the aisle seat.
Where do you tend to self-assign seating when there are no seating charts?
Today is the fifteenth day of M.A.P.L.E. That is two weeks and one day.
Credit to Kyle Collins for the featured image.