Why You Hate Waiting In Line

Why You Hate Waiting In Line

We’ve all experienced the gruelling boredom of waiting in a line. Not only are lines boring, they can also be aggravating and stressful. The New York Times explains why we hate lines, and what we can do about them.

Photo by David Morris.

The basic idea is that the wait in a line feels longer when you’re unoccupied. In fact, research suggests that people overestimate how long they’ve waited in a queue by 36 per cent. Those estimates are often based on expectation. The New York Times explains:

Our expectations further affect how we feel about lines. Uncertainty magnifies the stress of waiting, while feedback in the form of expected wait times and explanations for delays improves the tenor of the experience.

Oddly, our feelings about queuing in a line aren’t just based on expectations; our perception of a line is often all about that final moment. If a line speeds up at the end, we remember the experience positively. If it slows down, we have a negative memory.

The other problem with waiting in lines is that we’re more likely to make impulse purchases when we’re bored. This is why supermarkets place tabloids, lollies and gum in the checkout lane.

Can you do anything about lines? Not really, but the New York Times offers one final bit of advice for dealing with them:

The dominant cost of waiting is an emotional one: stress, boredom, that nagging sensation that one’s life is slipping away. The last thing we want to do with our dwindling leisure time is squander it in stasis. We’ll never eliminate lines altogether, but a better understanding of the psychology of waiting can help make those inevitable delays that inject themselves into our daily lives a touch more bearable. And when all else fails, bring a book.

If you find yourself getting peeved when you’re waiting in lines, the New York Times article is worth a read, even though you can rarely do anything about it. Unless, of course, you want to convince people to let you cut in line.

Why Waiting Is Torture [New York Times]


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