Investigating behavioural mimicry in the context of stair/escalator choice


Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Oliver J. Webb, School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University, Ashby Road, Loughborough, Leicestershire LE11 3TU, UK (e-mail:


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.