Is there a deep study that suggests to place a scrollbar on the right? Personally I move it to the left whenever possible (Firefox allow this, as well as xterm and emacs).

I know that placing a scrollbar on the left is considered useful only while typing in "right-to-left" languages like Hebrew, but premises for this are unknown to me.

In the screenshots of NeXT desktop, for example, you can see that scrollbars are always on the left side and there are only English characters.

  • 1
    Big-endian? Little-endian? The perversity of the Universe tends toward a maximum? (Finagles Law)
    – user67695
    Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 15:26

11 Answers 11


I think of this more as a mental model issue. Imagine if there was no mouse, but rather you were doing it with your hand. Most people are right-handed. My mental model is that I am moving the scrollbar with my right hand. Therefore, scrollbar on the left would indicate that my arm is moving across (in front of) the content and blocking my vision so I can scroll the page.

Of course, the mouse makes this ONLY a mental image and not actually blocking my face. However, as I imagine the scrollbar on the left, I keep feeling like I am reaching over the content to scroll, rather than scrolling from the side.

  • "moving the scrollbar with my right hand" I guess you actually have 2 hands. Why do yo "mentally" choose to scroll with the right one? The "right-handed" issue doesn't make sense to me. (I'm right-handed too) And, btw, what was wrong with a mental model of NeXT GUI designers? Why they choose "the left side"? Commented Sep 1, 2010 at 16:52
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    Hard to tell whether it's a mental model thing or that your mental model is a product of using right hand side scroll bars for 20 (?) years, though. The best thing to do would be to test it on tribes in the Amazon who've had no exposure to computer technology and see what happens. Oh.
    – Rahul
    Commented Sep 1, 2010 at 20:38
  • Interesting discussion. :) I wonder how left handed users feel about it.
    – Glen Lipka
    Commented Sep 2, 2010 at 16:29
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    Check out this recently published Scientific American article. You Are What You Touch: How Tool Use Changes the Brain's Representations of the Body Commented Sep 9, 2010 at 2:13
  • @Henry Flower - I'd choose the right one because that's the one I use the most (if I want to use one of them, it will be the one I am best with). Secondly: Mostly, text reads left to right, so I will have a smaller chance of obscuring that if I have my hand/cursor on the other side.
    – Jonta
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 21:07

The scroll bar is usually used after the content of the page above the fold has been consumed.

I.e. the users first look at the content or read it and once they've reached the bottom, they scroll to see the rest.

Since the language determines the order of consumption, the users will have finished the visible content and would need to see more (scroll) when they're on the bottom right part of the page (for left to right languages). Hence the shortest movement would be to the right.

According to Fitt's law mentioned several times, the closer the target, the easier it is to acquire. Combine that with the fact that scroll bars are most often the rightmost element and you also enable the user to "throw" the mouse as far as they want and still hit it.

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    This implies that users scrolls down every time after reading exactly 1 line, which of course is almost never true. What if user wants to skip 1 paragraph or 2 or n paragraphs? Where would user eyes be: on the left side of the text or on the right? Commented Sep 1, 2010 at 18:01
  • I don't understand your "after reading 1 line" conclusion... Assuming the user is actually reading, he or she will finish the visible content. Then they'll either drag, or simply click once to scroll to the next page. They'll continue consuming a whole page and then scroll again. The scenario you're describing is less common in my opinion, plus the benefit of the scroll bar being on the left is not really noticeable.
    – Dan Barak
    Commented Sep 1, 2010 at 20:03
  • The Fitts' Law piece doesn't apply at all to right vs. left. If it's on the left, you still have infinite surface area, just in the opposite direction, and can "throw" just as hard :)
    – cbosco
    Commented Sep 1, 2010 at 20:28
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    @dan: nobody reads the whole page this days--modern user like to skim over the content like crazy. And if this content contains the text their eyes will be on the left (on the right for Hebrew, I guess). But the scrollbar not only helps to "scroll" but to guess the current position on the page. If the scrollbar is on the right, user constantly glances to the opposite side of the page. Commented Sep 1, 2010 at 20:46
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    @patrick: it certainly depends on the size of a window. Commented Sep 1, 2010 at 21:54

I would strongly discourage you from putting the scroll bar on the left, even if there are multiple "deep studies" that prove it's better. You will seriously confuse users. I'd consider familiarity a core UI design principle.

There are multiple studies that prove the superiority of DVORAK keyboards over QWERTY -- a keyboard designed to slow down users. Yet, no non-techie types have ever heard of DVORAK keyboards, or care to.

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    So I guess we shouldn't bother with electric cars because people are familiar with gas stations.
    – Zifre
    Commented Sep 1, 2010 at 23:05
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    Yes, we should build electric cars. But we shouldn't put the steering wheel on the right in the U.S., or on the left in Australia.
    – Hisham
    Commented Sep 2, 2010 at 18:49
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    @Zifre Buying gas isn't an ingrained habit like muscle memory. I could stop doing that any time (and rejoice at not needing to!), but it would take a good bit of retraining for me to learn to look for the scroll bar in a new place.
    – Pam G
    Commented May 29, 2011 at 3:07
  • I know that RTL programs that move the scrollbars to the left are extermely annoying that way and even though I've used some of them for years I can never get used to that. Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 20:31

Scrollbars on the left make a lot of ergonomic sense in a text editor; in fact I won't have it any other way!

When you're editing (in a LTR language) your text is usually left-heavy. Thus your cursor is more likely to be near the left edge than the right edge, meaning you have to move the mouse a shorter distance to start scrolling. When you found the text you were looking for, you again have a smaller distance to cover to position the caret.

Having to move the mouse a smaller distance also means that mouse acceleration isn't as likely kick in and throw your accuracy way off.

All the original unix scrollbars (Xterm and old Xt based applications) were on the left, probably for this very reason.

  • Because most of the text is on the left, your eyes are also looking more at the left part. So that is another reason to have the scrollbar on the left. Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 17:26

I don’t know of any studies showing superiority of a scrollbar on the right, but I do know one study that suggested the left is superior for most situations:

Kellener, E., Barnes, G.M. and Lingard, R. (2001), Effects of scroll bar orientation and item justification, Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 45th Annual Meeting

The increase in clutter apparently is not an issue. The advantage comes from the scrollbar being nearer where the mouse pointer tends to be, and, thanks to a left-to-right layout of content, the mouse is more likely on the left than right (e.g., to select text or a control, like menu item). I know I find it painful to watch users alternate between the Back button in the upper left and the scrolling down in the lower right when searching multiple web pages, especially when they are using a laptop touchpad.

I don’t know why the scrollbar ended up on the right, but I can find only two cases where it was put on the left (NeXT’s OPENSTEP, and Oracle Applications User Interface Standards), so I guess the right seemed like the most natural place. Maybe the scrollbar is expected to be used after scanning the screen, so, like the OK and Cancel buttons, it’s placed where the eyes will find it then. In practice (shrug), it doesn’t seem to be that important. Users don’t seem to have a hard time finding a browser back button, after all.

Despite the advantages of a left scrollbar, however, I would advise against mixing apps with left and right scrollbars on the same workstation, at least, not without heavy testing to be sure it retains its advantages without causing problems on other apps. You don’t want users slewing the mouse one way then reversing because they forgot “where” they are. That could quickly wipe out any advantage for left scrollbars. Besides, with the advent of the mouse scroll wheel, the advantage of a left scrollbar has been diminished.


If we are really reading in an F-pattern (reading pattern), I think putting the scrollbar on the left would create more noise than on the right. No?

And I totally agree with @Glen Lipka about the mental model. If the mouse is the extension of our hand, try scrolling with your fingers on the left of the screen with an iPad. Does it feel natural? Efficient?..since your arm is in the way.

Of course, I'm right-handed and I learned since I'm little that the scrollbar is on the right. Anyway, interesting discussion.

  • Tried using the mouse with my left hand. Soon had crippling pain in my upper back. Oh, well.
    – user67695
    Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 15:29

I can think of two reasons to keep the scroll bar on the right:

  1. People tend to read left and click right (at least this is true in left-to-right languages). meaning that overall the scrollbar would be easier to use on the right side of an app.
  2. The scrollbar is on the right of a majority of applications (I can't think of one I've used that had it on the left off-hand), and it's expected behavior. To have an easy-to-use UI, you need a compelling reason to not have thing behave as the user would naturally expect.
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    Agree with #2 pretty strongly. I don't think there's deep research on the subject; it's a suboptimal solution that became a convention based on tech limitations of the time
    – cbosco
    Commented Sep 1, 2010 at 20:31

As a matter of interest, I wonder how many people use scrollbars now that most mice have a scroll wheel. I almost never use a scrollbar. As such, it provides more of a visual indication of how much more content there is.

BTW: As regards the question: I would not be different for the sake of chasing 1% productivity. People are easily confused.

  • In most X Window toolkits you can click with a second mouse button on a scrollbar to immediately jump to the desired location. It's very handy. Commented Dec 30, 2010 at 15:02
  • Take a closer look at people when they are using a touchpad (scrolling hotspots vs. moving a mouse cursor to the scrollbar). Commented Dec 30, 2010 at 15:11
  • I actually drag the scrollbar slider all the time when the page is long and I'm skimming, it's faster than scrolling and scrolling and scrolling with the mouse wheel.
    – Pam G
    Commented May 29, 2011 at 3:02

Personally, I like the scroll bar on the right because there is nearly always content down the left side of the screen, while the right side is generally more empty. Putting the scroll bar on the right makes the screen less cluttered.

  • It not only clutters, it could overlap which would be very annoying. I work in Hebrew(rtl) with menus on the right and the scrollbar on the right, displaying on top of the menu is annoying.
    – Dov Miller
    Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 9:27
  • The overlapping I mentioned does not occur in all browsers.
    – Dov Miller
    Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 9:40

I am a lefty and having the scroll bar on the right drives me crazy. I have to move my mouse positioned on the left side of my desk across the screen to get to my scroll bar. Why not use the scroll wheel on the mouse, you say? Because when touching the left side your screen you will not have any free space for scrolling. Touching usually results in something opening up. So once again everything is designed for righties. By the way the lefty population is almost as large as the righty especially in the tech industry. Can't find any answer for getting the scroll bar to the left.


There's a paper (https://www.alandix.com/academic/papers/scrollbar/) which argues that the reason for scrollbars to be on the right is that you imagine using it with your hand, and don't want to obscure content by putting your hand in the way.

Of course, for lefties you'd want the scrollbar on the left.

I've recently been thinking about interfaces with two panels, left and right which scroll independently, and I think my instinctive preference is to have the scrollbars on the outer edge of the screen. Why? Because I don't want to have a scroll bar on the right edge of the left panel where is acts as a visual intrusion between the two panels.

But my mental model here is also that I manipulate the left panel with my left hand, and the right with my right, which feels very natural.

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