“Up Means Good”: The Effect of Screen Position on Evaluative Ratings in Web Surveys

This paper presents results from six experiments that examine the effect of the position of an item on the screen on the evaluative ratings it receives. The experiments are based on the idea that respondents expect “good” things—those they view positively—to be higher up on the screen than “bad” things. The experiments use items on different topics (Congress and HMOs, a variety of foods, and six physician specialties) and different methods for varying their vertical position on the screen. A meta-analysis of all six experiments demonstrates a small but reliable effect of the item’s screen position on mean ratings of the item; the ratings are significantly more positive when the item appears in a higher position on the screen than when it appears farther down. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that respondents follow the “Up means good” heuristic, using the vertical position of the item as a cue in evaluating it. Respondents seem to rely on heuristics both in interpreting response scales and in forming judgments.