you're reading...
PUBLICATIONS, Structural and Cohesion Policies

Can I sit next to you, girl?

@jaymass

A new study reveals the tactics commuters use to avoid each other, a practice known as ‘nonsocial transient behavior.’How do you choose your place on a bus, plane or train? Do you like sitting alone? Or, do you place your bag on the empty seat next to you? How do you avoid a big person from taking the seat next to you? Why do so many people sit on the aisle seat, leaving the window seat unoccupied?

A game of chess

The study was carried out by Esther Kim, from Yale University, who traveled thousands of miles by bus to examine the unspoken rules and behaviors of commuters.

“We live in a world of strangers, where life in public spaces feels increasingly anonymous,” according to Kim. “However, avoiding other people actually requires quite a lot of effort and this is especially true in confined spaces like public transport.”

Kim found that the greatest unspoken rule of bus travel is that if other seats are available you shouldn’t sit next to someone else. As the passengers claimed, “It makes you look weird.” When all the rows are filled and more passengers are getting aboard the seated passengers initiate a performance to strategically avoid anyone sitting next to them. They engage in all sorts of behavior to avoid others, pretending to be busy, checking phones, rummaging through bags, looking past people or falling asleep.

Normal person

This all changes however when it becomes clear the bus will be full so all seats should be made available. The objective changes, from sitting alone to sitting next to a ‘normal’ person. And normal means “someone who doesn’t look crazy, will not talk much and probably will not smell, and preferably has attractive looks (Yes, AC/DC!).”

Culture of social isolation

According to the research race, class, gender and other background characteristics were not key concerns for commuters when they discovered someone had to sit next to them. They all just wanted to avoid the “crazy person.

Motivating this nonsocial behavior is the fact that one’s own comfort level is the rider’s key concern, rather than the backgrounds of fellow passengers.

Kim found that this nonsocial behavior is also driven by safety concerns, especially for coach travel which is perceived to be dangerous with ill lit bus stations. Kim also found that passengers expected each other to be jaded by delays or other inconveniences.

Ultimately this nonsocial behavior is due to the many frustrations of sharing a small public space together for a lengthy amount of time. This deliberate disengagement is a calculated social action, which is part of a wider culture of social isolation in public spaces.

Original article: Kim, E. C. (2012), Nonsocial Transient Behavior: Social Disengagement on the Greyhound Bus. Symbolic Interaction. doi: 10.1002/symb.21

Other blog posts on public transport:

Free public transport in Europe

Getting paid when travelling outside rush hour!

About Geert Plas

Polyvalent information specialist at the European Parliament Library

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Download the EPRS App

EPRS App on Google Play
EPRS App on App Store
What Europe Does For You
EU Legislation in Progress
Topical Digests
EPRS Podcasts

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 3,391 other followers

Disclaimer and Copyright statement

The content of all documents (and articles) contained in this blog is the sole responsibility of the author and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily represent the official position of the European Parliament. It is addressed to the Members and staff of the EP for their parliamentary work. Reproduction and translation for non-commercial purposes are authorised, provided the source is acknowledged and the European Parliament is given prior notice and sent a copy.

For a comprehensive description of our cookie and data protection policies, please visit Terms and Conditions page.

Copyright © European Union, 2014-2019. All rights reserved.

%d bloggers like this: