Elevator Riders Stand in Mini Social Hierarchies

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Do you ever pay attention to where you stand when you ride an elevator?

Rebekah Rousi, a Ph.D. student in cognitive science, does. She conducted an elevator study in two of the tallest office buildings Adelaide, Australia, and after 30 rides, found that more senior men stand in the back, younger men stand in the middle and women of all ages stand in front.

Not only did people tend to stand in certain locations, but they also directed their gaze in particular areas. Men checked out the other riders as well as themselves, while women did not and only looked in the mirrors when another women was in the elevator car.

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Rousi writes on her blog, “Men watched the monitors, looked in the side mirrors (in one building) to see themselves, and in the door mirrors (of the other building) to also watch others. Women would watch the monitors and avoid eye contact with other users (unless in conversation) and the mirrors.”

It’s not clear why these trends play out. Rousi told NPR’s Robert Krulwich that where people stand may have less to do with power and more to do with shyness. Bold people stand in the back and shy people in front.

I tend to stand off to the side because I’m tall and feel like I’m always blocking people’s view. But I also notice in elevators that men tend to hold the door open and allow women to walk through first, so maybe that’s why men stand in back. What do you think?

 

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