Do People Take Longer if Someone is Waiting?

I’ve noticed multiple times that when I’m waiting for someone to leave their parking space, and they realize that I’m waiting for them, it always takes a really long time. This made me wonder if people subconsciously take longer if they realize someone is waiting for them.

I found a study that was conducted by R. Barry Ruback and Daniel Juieng, in 1997, which tested multiple hypotheses. They wanted to test whether people would take longer to leave their parking space if someone is waiting, if longer departure time correlates with a more aggressive intruder(someone waiting to take their space), and if people are conscious of how long they take to leave a space when there is someone else present.

The researchers discuss that humans are territorial. If someone has a claim over something they are not going to want to give it up, even if it’s something you don’t need anymore. This behavior was apparent in a study which showed that people took longer on a pay phone if someone was waiting than if they were alone. In a different article I read that humans are territorial from a biological and cognitive standpoint. For example, we will often defend stuff that belongs to us (house, car, office), things that we use often (favorite seat in class), and public areas.

The first study was randomized, observational and blind. The researchers picked a parking lot of a shopping mall and began timing how long it took a person to leave their spot. They recorded the genders, race, and type of car that each of the people had; in total there were 200 drivers involved in their data (103 females, 97 males, 105 White, 77 African American and 18 other). They also recorded when another driver was waiting to get into the spot and if the


person realized someone was waiting for them. Out of 200 people, 38% were intruded by someone wanting to take their spot. Their results showed that the race and type of car had no effect in the departure time. However, the departing drivers took longer when they were intruded. The researchers acknowledged that this increase in time could be due to the fact that the departing drivers wanted to make sure they weren’t going to get in an accident.

The second study followed a similar process, it was randomized and blind. This time they measured departure time depending on the level of aggression of the intruder (if someone was honking the horn or not), how expensive the intruder’s car was, and if there was a distraction (another car driving by where the parking space was). They also included a control group, drivers who departed without anyone waiting for their spot. They recorded the actions of 240 drivers (they also noted race and gender). They found that people departed slower when the intruding car was honking. But the departure times of those who were intruded (without honking) and distracted were very similar. An interesting finding was that when the intruding car was of low status the men departed slower than women. And, in contrast, when there was a high status car the men left faster. Ruback and Juieng suggest that this could mean that men are more territorial and more aware of status.

The third study was a questionnaire that asked participants ages 21-62 about how they would feel (on a 7-point scale from bad to calm) about leaving a space given certain conditions. They said that they would leave sooner if someone was waiting and would take longer if the person honked at them. In the second part of the questionnaire they were asked to rate how they think others would act. The results showed that they think others would behave similar to them, however, they claimed that other people would take a little longer to leave if someone was waiting and if the car honked.

Ruback and Juieng concluded that there is enough evidence for further studies to be conducted and that they think the results showed that people wait longer to leave due to the idea that if someone is trying to take your space, you may feel like you have less freedom. Remaining in the space, even if it’s for only slightly longer, would help regain your control over the situation.

Unfortunately I was unable to find any other studies that have looked into this hypothesis. This was disappointing since these results are from a really long time ago. However, I think this study was well executed because they took into account confounding variables and discussed some of the problems with their results. I think that after looking at their results I could conclude that people do take longer, but without realizing it. It’s part of our nature to be territorial. Maybe next time you are leaving a parking space try and think about how long you are taking.


3 thoughts on “Do People Take Longer if Someone is Waiting?

  1. Matthew J Overmoyer

    From what the study says, it sounds like taking a while when we know someone is waiting is an instinctive thing. It’s subconscious. I wonder if this is significantly reduced if we know the person or if the person moving is friendlier. I’m not sure how this would be measured. Another factor, you alluded to with Murphy’s law, is perhaps when we become aware of someone else waiting on us, we take longer because we become more aware of how long we are taking and want to take less time but dwell to much on it.

  2. Evan Michael Wentzel

    I have never thought about people taking longer while I’m waiting, but after reading your post it makes more sense and I can understand why. Before reading this I would have assumed that the results would have been opposite, but you do a great job of explaining how humans’ constant need for power and control is what makes us protective over a parking space.

  3. Charlotte Anderson

    I laughed when I first read the title of this blog post. I always feel like I take forever when I have people waiting on me. If I’m ready, it is the opposite and my friends seem to take years to get ready. I’m surprised that there has been studies done on this information. It was definitely interesting to read. Do you think that it’s just Murphy’s Law? If you don’t know what that is it can basically be described by the example of when you bring an umbrella it doesn’t rain, and if you don’t bring one it is pouring.

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