Back when I used to commute to San Francisco for work, there seemed to be no escaping them: Couples taking up the entire width of the escalator instead of leaving room on the left for walkers. Tourists blocking the sidewalk to snap photos. Other pedestrians slowly meandering along, absorbed in their phones. Often forced to stop or shuffle behind them, I would seethe silently. Hello? It’s rush hour. SOME people actually have somewhere to go.
If you live or work in a crowded city, you can probably relate. In fact, the prevalence of anger toward slow walkers has earned it a special label from some researchers: sidewalk rage. Think of it as the pedestrian version of road rage. It can involve inward fuming over irrational assumptions about other pedestrians—or even violent fantasies about them—which could lead to hostility and aggression, says Leon James, a psychology professor at the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa’s College of Social Sciences and leading scholar of sidewalk rage.
James explains that pedestrians not only move through physical space, but also “social space,” which consists of socially acceptable and unacceptable routes. “When walkers suddenly stop as they seem mesmerized by their tiny mobile device, they are violating normative paths that compels nearby pedestrians in both directions to negotiate their way around them.”
This is consistent with our understanding of what triggers anger: “a violation of something that ought to be,” says Zlatan Krizan, a professor of psychology at Iowa State University—for instance, that other pedestrians ought to make room for you to pass them. The idea is that these violations prevent you from reaching your goals, whether it’s getting to the office on time or grabbing lunch to soothe your hunger pangs.
Anger “creates a laser-like focus” that boosts your motivation to achieve those goals, says Stephanie Preston, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. “When you’re in that zone, you’re not thinking about other people or why they might be going slowly”—whether it’s because they’re elderly, for example, or enjoying a leisurely stroll. “They are simply seen as barriers to one’s goal.”
Read the full article at Men's Health.