It’s not your paranoid imagination after all: People exiting parking spaces really do leave more slowly when you’re waiting for the spot. And if you honk, it only will make things worse.
It’s called territorial behavior and once again shows that we haven’t evolved as much as we might like to think.
A study of more than 400 drivers in an Atlanta area mall’s parking lot found that motorists defend their spots instinctively.
“Like our ancestors, we humans still defend territories,” said Penn State University sociologist Barry Ruback. “This, despite the fact that when you’re leaving, the whole point is to leave. There’s nothing to be territorial about.”
One reason for the extra wait, Ruback acknowledged, could be safety: Drivers may slow down to avoid hitting the other car.
The study appears in the May 1-15 issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. Ruback conducted the research with Daniel Juieng, an undergraduate at Georgia State University.
Judith Stevens, a transplanted New Yorker living in State College, said she understands the impulse to take your sweet time when another driver gets a little pushy.
“‘You in a hurry? You’re going to wait a little longer,”’ she said. “It’s dog-eat-dog out there. And a spot’s a spot.”
The study found that, on average, drivers took 32.2 seconds to pull out of a spot after opening the car door. If someone was waiting, however, it took almost seven seconds longer. And honkers were forced to wait just under 43 seconds.
Drivers said in a related survey that they actually try to move more quickly if they know someone is waiting, Ruback said.
“It suggests that people can be territorial even if they’re not aware of it,” Ruback said.
Male drivers were affected by the type of car waiting for the spot. If a $57,000 Infiniti Q45 pulled up, men exited in half a minute; when it was a $5,200 station wagon, the wait was longer than 39 seconds.
Women, on the other hand, didn’t seem to mind what kind of car was waiting. That’s because men make stronger connections between car value and status, Ruback said.