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Looking behaviour and preference for artworks: The role of emotional valence and locationThe position of an item influences its evaluation, with research consistently finding that items occupying central locations are preferred and have a higher subjective value. The current study investigated whether this centre-stage effect (CSE) is a result of bottom-up gaze allocation to the central item, and whether it is affected by item valence. Participants (n=50) were presented with three images of artistic paintings in a row and asked to choose the image they preferred. Eye movements were recorded for a subset of participants (n=22). On each trial the three artworks were either similar but different, or were identical and with positive valence, or were identical and with negative valence. The results showed a centre-stage effect, with artworks in the centre of the row preferred, but only when they were identical and of positive valence. Significantly greater gaze allocation to the central and left artwork was not mirrored by equivalent increases in preference choices. Regression analyses showed that when the artworks were positive and identical the participants’ last fixation predicted preference for the central art-work, whereas the fixation duration predicted preference if the images were different. Overall the result showed that item valence, rather than level of gaze allocation, influences the CSE, which is incompatible with the bottom-up gaze explanation. We propose that the centre stage heuristic, which specifies that the best items are in the middle, is able to explain these findings and the centre-stage effect.