What really drives you crazy about waiting in line

Posted on December 3, 2015

Photo source: Flickr

If the people who study the psychology of waiting in line — yes, there is such a thing — have an origin story, it’s this:

It was the 1950s, and a high-rise office building in Manhattan had a problem. The tenants complained of an excessively long wait for the elevator when people arrived in the morning, took their lunch break, and left at night. Engineers examined the building and determined that nothing could be done to speed up the service.
Desperate to keep his tenants, the building manager turned to his staff for suggestions. One employee noted that people were probably just bored and recommended installing floor-to-ceiling mirrors near the elevators, so people could look at themselves and each other while waiting. This was done, and complaints dropped to nearly zero.

The story offers a powerful insight into one of the most universal, and universally hated, things we do: waiting in line. It suggests that there are hidden and surprising factors that affect how we experience lines. In the case of elevators, it wasn't the wait that mattered. It was that we got bored while waiting.

Companies have come up with some novel solutions to shorten lines, including charging customers for skipping or advancing in the line. One strategy that companies can use is distraction. Research suggests that people who have nothing to do perceive wait times to be longer than those who are distracted by reading materials, television or conversation. Mirrors by the elevator, TV screens at the airport, magazines in the waiting room, little knick-knacks to peruse and buy in the supermarket checkout aisle and, of course, smartphones, all take people's minds off of their frustration about being imprisoned in a line.

One other powerful technique that Disney exemplifies is managing people's expectations for the wait. Disney's parks often gives estimates for how long someone might spend standing in line for its amusements, and these wait times are almost always overestimated, according to Larson's research. Even if the wait time is extensive — an hour, for example — people are pleasantly surprised when they exit the line in 45 minutes, "ahead of schedule."

This article was adapted from the link below. Follow it to read the story in full.


Category(s):Adult psychological development

Source material from The Washington Post


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