Investigating behavioural mimicry in the context of stair/escalator choice
Article first published online: 11 MAR 2011
©2010 The British Psychological Society
British Journal of Health Psychology
Volume 16, Issue 2, pages 373–385, May 2011
How to Cite
Webb, O. J., Eves, F. F. and Smith, L. (2011), Investigating behavioural mimicry in the context of stair/escalator choice. British Journal of Health Psychology, 16: 373–385. doi: 10.1348/135910710X510395
- Issue published online: 13 APR 2011
- Article first published online: 11 MAR 2011
- Received 20 January 2010; revised version received 28 April 2010
Objectives. We investigated whether individuals mimic the stair/escalator choices of preceding pedestrians. Our methodology sought to separate cases where the ‘model’ and ‘follower’ were acquaintances or strangers.
Design. Natural experiment.
Methods. Infrared monitors provided a second-by-second log of when pedestrians ascended adjacent stairs/escalators in a mall. Manual timings established that stair climbers spent ≥ 7 s on ascent, during which time they could act as models to following pedestrians. Thus, individuals who mounted the stairs/escalator ≤ 7 s after the previous stair climber were assigned to a ‘stair model’ condition. A ‘no stair model’ condition comprised individuals with a gap to the previous stair climber of ≥ 60 s. The stair model condition was subdivided, depending if the gap between model and follower was 1–2 s or 3–7 s. It was hypothesized that the former cohort may know the model.
Results. Percentage stair climbing was significantly higher in the ‘stair model’ versus ‘no stair model’ condition (odds ratio [OR]= 2.08). Subgroup analyses showed greater effects in the ‘1–2 s’ cohort (OR = 3.33) than the ‘3–7 s’ cohort (OR = 1.39).
Conclusions. Individuals appear to mimic the stair/escalator choices of fellow pedestrians, with more modest effects between strangers. People exposed to message prompts at stair/escalator sites are known to take the stairs unprompted in subsequent situations. Our results suggest that these individuals could recruit a second generation of stair climbers via mimicry. Additionally, some of the immediate behavioural effects observed in interventions may be a product of mimicry, rather than a direct effect of the messages themselves.