I know Alexis blogged this just a few weeks ago, but a study this good CANNOT pass without me wanting to read it. And when I read, I must comment! And my comment? The moral of this story: dang people are JERKS. Territorial jerks.
Ruback and Jueing. "Territorial Defense in Parking Lots: Retaliation Against Waiting Drivers" Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 1997.
Really, the paper could practically stand on its own. This stuff is awesome. Everyone knows that many animals (including humans) are territorial (my home is my castle, anyone?), but it's AMAZING what people who study territoriality in humans will find. For example, did you know that people are more likely to defend library carrels from intrusion than library tables, because the library carrels are thought to be better study spots? And anecdotally, we've all seen (or been) the students who find their particular seat in a class and defend it to the death. There are also strong effects of social rank on territoriality, you're far more likely to give up your seat with a grumble to the high school quarterback, and high ranking high school students are less likely to get interrupted at the water fountain than low ranking students. I really wonder just how much time all these researchers must have spent hanging out in high school libraries and by the water fountain.
The interesting thing about these settings is that they are public territories. You don't OWN that library table, neither do you own the water fountain. These are public territories, areas that anyone can occupy for a short time. These territories are much less important then your private territories, and that means that you're more likely to retreat if you start getting intruded on. Think of if you are sitting the library, and someone you don't know sits down RIGHT next to you, even when there's lots of other spaces available. Awwwwkward. People who experience this don't square their shoulders and bull through, instead they tend to give up and move on.
But not all territory is like that. Some temporary public territories appear to take on a kind of significance. ESPECIALLY if you're getting intruded on. For example, people using pay phones (back when there used to be lots of pay phones and the dinosaurs roamed the earth), tended to take longer on them when they knew someone was waiting for them. This wasn't necessarily malicious, people also tended to get more distracted, and so it took them longer to finish their call.
Of course, now many people have their own cell phones they carry around, and competition is far less fierce. But there are still some public spaces where you might end up waiting, public spaces that can end up taking on a mysteriously sudden amount of defensible value.
(The side effect of living in a big city in the Northeast during the winter, the dreaded "saved" parking space. Source)
Cars can make people territorial. They are yours, and sometimes they feel like they can extend your own personal space a bit (or up several feel if you happen to drive an SUV). And they may make you feel a bit bigger a bit more likely to defend your current bit of public territory, even when that territory is just a parking space...that you were about to leave anyway. This seems particularly odd. I mean, you're about to leave ANYWAY, what's the point?
Well, apparently the point is either distraction, or you are going to SHOW that other guy.
To perform the three studies in this paper, these researchers spent a LOT of time in crowded parking lots. Think Costco on a Saturday afternoon. You've been there. I hope these guys had a good spot and some shade. Maybe ice cream.
Study 1: For the first study, they watched 200 people (roughly half women and half men) leave parking spots. They watched only the 52 parking spots closest to the entrance (I have to wonder whether there is a confound here, those ARE the choicest spots, and some people are really willing to hold out rather than park near the back of the lot). For each shopper who left, they started a stopwatch when the person opened the driver side door, and stopped it when the car was completely out of the space. They also noted when another driver was waiting for the coveted spot, and counted it as an "intrusion" if the departing shopper NOTICED the incoming driver.
It turned out that of the leaving drivers, 38% had another car waiting on them. And regardless of the number of people in the leaving car (or not), drivers took, on average (with a lot of variability) 32.15 seconds to leave when no one was waiting, and 39.03 seconds to leave when another car was bearing down on them. That's an extra 7 seconds (on average) leaving the waiting hanging.
Now, that could indicate a certain amount of territorial behavior, but it could ALSO indicate that having someone else there makes the leaving driver distracted, as in another study where people spent longer on the phone when others were waiting. They also could be pulling out slower because they worry the incoming car is too close. Further studies needed, obviously!
Study 2: This one addressed whether or not the leaving drivers were just distracted, or whether they were really being territorial, and looked at the LEVEL of intrusion. Finally, they wanted to look at STATUS. Do you behavior differently when the driver waiting is driving this:
(Sci will admit to having never seen one of these in person. Source)
For this study, the researchers didn't just watch the cars. They WERE the cars. They used a "low status" car (1985 Nissan Maxima station wagon), and a "high status" car (1993 Lexus SC 400). I wonder how they wrote THOSE into the grant ("budget: $43K for a Lexus SC 400...research purposes...honest..."). They had six conditions:
1) Low intrusion, low status: a car waited for the space, just sitting there. Old beat up car was waiting.
2) Low intrusion, high status: a car waited for the space, just sitting there. Super nice car was waiting.
3) High instrusion, low status: the waiting car honked at the leaving car to hurry the f*** up. Old beat up car was waiting.
4) High intrusion, high status: the waiting car honked at the leaving car to hurry the f*** up. Super nice car was waiting.
5) Low distraction: drivers just left their parking spaces.
6) High distraction: cars drove by as the driver was leaving.
Again they found that the cars getting intruded on look longer to leave. They ALSO found that the length of time with low intrusion (just a waiting car) could possibly be just distraction, as the time to leave was then same when cars were driving by. BUT, they found that if a car pulled up, waited, and HONKED, people took MUCH longer to leave. Screw you, jerk.
Not only that, there was an interaction between the gender of the leaving drivers, and the STATUS of the waiting car. While women didn't care whether the Nissan or the Lexus was waiting, MEN took notice of the Lexus and left sooner, while leaving the low status car driver to stew.
So while the low intrusion of a car waiting may make you take longer because you're distracted, you're much more likely to dawdle intentionally if the jerk waiting is honking and giving you the finger (though they didn't have a "flipping the bird" condition). As to why the men leaving paid attention to the status of the car, there are two hypotheses they came up with: (1) the men pay more attention to status and defend "their" parking spots against low status intruders, or (2) more women don't know a Lexus when they see one. Dang if I know which one. Many women I know DO know car brands, and many MEN I know DON'T, it could be the first one, or they could have picked a parking lot where a lot of women didn't know car brands very well. Who knows?
Study 3: This one asked the people LEAVING their parking spaces how they would feel about people waiting for them to leave, and how long they thought it would take them to leave. And it turns out that people know full well how long they are taking and how negatively they feel about the people waiting. People felt more negatively about someone waiting for their space, and MORE negatively when those people were honking. But the time to leave showed something else. While people feel negatively about cars waiting for them, they DO feel like they take less time to leave (even though, as the study showed above, they actually don't). But they take revenge and take MORE time to leave when the waiting car is honking.
The moral of these stories is on two levels, I think.
1) We really DO defend our "territory" from intrusion, even if that territory is a parking space that isn't ours. We don't like being intruded on and we'll take our own time, thanks.
2) There's no point in being a jerk. In fact, being a jerk and honking your horn is only going to get people to take MORE time leaving, just to drive the point home. This is THEIR territory (for right now), and they'll leave when they darn well please.
Ruback, R., & Juieng, D. (1997). Territorial Defense in Parking Lots: Retaliation Against Waiting Drivers Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 27 (9), 821-834 DOI: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.1997.tb00661.x