'Weakest Link' least likely to be your neighbour

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The Weakest Link studio
Image caption,
How would you choose?

A study of behaviour on the Weakest Link quiz show suggests there is a basic instinct to be nicest to those closest to you, psychologists say.

A team from the University of Lincoln looked at 72 shows, and at who was picked to go out.

They found they were much less likely to select those standing next to them.

An independent psychologist said the study showed people close by were seen as "team-mates", and so were less likely to be picked.


The findings were presented to the Society for the Advancement of Behavioural Economics (SABE) conference in Granada, Spain.

The team say that TV quiz shows are a good forum for observing social behaviour outside of the laboratory.

They analysed voting patterns in the first round of the show, comparing how votes would be expected to fall based on probability against how votes were cast in reality.

They found the bias against voting for your neighbour was strongest when there was not an obvious "weak link".

The findings echo a 1960s test by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram which found people were more reluctant to administer a punishment they believed to be an electric shock to another person if they were located in the same room.

When the "punishment" could be delivered remotely from another room, that inhibition was reduced.

Dr Paul Goddard, senior lecturer in the school of psychology, who led the research, said: "In the show contestants must make a choice about who is the worst player based on two very different sources of information.

"The primary and most reliable source comes from the game itself. If one player gets all their questions wrong, it's a fairly straightforward decision to vote them off.

"The quandary for contestants arises when there is no clear consensus about who is the worst player, such as in rounds where several players get just one question wrong.

"In these circumstances contestants have to rely on a secondary source of information - their own judgement. This is where bias can really come to the fore.

"We found strong evidence of a 'neighbour avoidance effect' which supported our prediction that spatial proximity would influence players' decision-making."

Michael Guttridge, of the British Psychological Society, said: "Contestants either side of us they are probably near enough to be considered as part of the same team or group and on our side, whereas people further way might be considered as part of a different group or team.

"You will probably look stronger if you still have people either side of you than if you are standing there neighbourless.

"This might have echoes of childhood games where two people are picking teams which then gather around them.

The Manchester-based psychologist added: "In business meetings supporters often take up positions either side of the person speaking and people sitting opposite are seen as more oppositional."

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