The psychology of bank lineups

I forget how we ended up on the topic, but a couple of coworkers and I were discussing how we behave when confronted with those velvet rope things at the bank.

One of the guys told me about this old gag on Candid Camera, where an “office” was set up in a warehouse, with no walls, just masking tape delineating where the walls were. There was also a door in the middle of the space, complete with frame. The audience watched as people would walk up to this door, knock, and then wait patiently to be let in. There is NO wall around this door, just the tape on the floor. It’s all open space.

The kicker was someone ordered a desk, specifically, a desk that was approximately two inches wider than the aforementioned doorway. The audience then watched as the delivery guys tried to fit the desk through the doorway, apparently oblivious to the fact that there is no actual obstacle to moving the desk around the door.

Which brings us back to the velvet-rope corral at the bank. Ever notice that even if the bank is completely empty, most customers will follow the path through the maze to the teller rather than just cut around it to the teller? Any psych majors want to enlighten me on why we do this?

I can’t speak to the why of it, but I sure have seen it.

I often see a very similar action when people approach the doors of a department store or whatever. There will be four or six doors across the front of the store, but if one is propped open, people will stop, get in line, and wait to get thru that one open door rather than just opening another one! It kills me to watch them.

I think it’s conditioning or training. We are raised to adopt a certain behaviour and we find it difficult to change that behaviour. If I saw an open store door with two people in front and the other doors being closed, I would probably assume the other doors are locked and line up behind the two people. If I saw the tape on the floor outlining an office and then the door, I might assume that there is some “invisible” string or wire strung up and try to go through the door.

There was some social psychological research/theorizing about this sort of behavior a while back. Basically, the conclusion was that people are “cognitive misers,” meaning that most of the time we are operating at less than mental high-gear. When we are engaged in something that is familiar or unimportant we tend to use the general rule “just do what you’ve always done before,” or “just do what everyone else is doing.” Ellen Langer at Harvard did the best-known studies on this. She called it “mindlessness.” (One example of a study was presenting bank-tellers with an ID that had someone else’s picture on it and noting how many times the teller caught on. Answer: Not very often.)

I do it for the piece of cheese at the end.

PLEEEEEZE forgive this hijack, but it relates to the “many people through few doors” syndrome. (Namely, that the other doors may, in fact, be locked, as TNT noted.)

What I want to know is:

If you’ve got six doors, or four doors, or two doors… WHY THE F*CK LOCK ANY OF THEM??

I mean, Jesus, are they open for business or not? Don’t they know how infuriating it is to play “guess the unlocked door” when shopping? Why do these idiots do that?

And let’s say they’ve got a good reason (like the hinge is broken), or a bad reason (they don’t want to let out the AC), WHY DON’T THEY INDICATE IT’S LOCKED SO WE DON’T GO TUGGING ON IT LIKE A MORON.

I’m convinced they’re just stupid, lazy bastards.


Which brings yet another hijack;
If you’re at a store late at night or early morning, and several people are nearing the door, many will loiter a bit hoping someone else will tug at the door and risk “TUGGING ON IT LIKE A MORON.” :smiley:

I know, I know, sometimes we all do silly things when there doesn’t seem to be any reason to. However…

Depending on how the “velvet ropes” at a bank or theater are set up, sometimes it’s actually less effort to go through the maze than it is to go over/under the ropes, or to walk completely around them to the head of the non-existent line.

I do it to see if I can find my way to the end. Sometimes I pretend to get lost and the manager has to come out and help me.

I always try all doors that say ‘please use other door’ to see if they are really locked.

Sometimes I ‘pull’ on ‘push’ doors to see if it an arbitrary decision by someone. If it doesn’t open, I stand there looking dumbfounded until someone opens it for me. I say “Thanks! I’m dyslexic.”

Most people are not as detailed-oriented as posters to SDMB. They just follow the path of least resistance.

I work in a public library and we put up all sorts of signs to tell people where exits are, where bathrooms are, etc.

Once I had to close off a door because there people working in the area just behind it and you couldn’t get around them.

I taped a sign on to the door handle telling people to use another door. You could not open the door without putting your hand on the sign. People would lift up the sign and then walk into the construction and have to turn around.

My next option was to stack furniture in front of the door. Someone started to unstack the furniture and then lift up the sign and walk out the door.

(This door was not a designated fire exit.)

BobT, you should have done what scientists have always done with lab rats: Affixed a battery to the door so that anyone who touches the knob gets a small shock. Hey, it’d work! :smiley:
Yeah, humans do tend to follow the herd. We’re group animals. We don’t like to think.

This is a great thread. It starts with people complaining that other people are sheep for going through the rope maze at the bank when there is no line. Then later posters complain that people are not doing what they are told. It is enough to make me stay home and watch Barney Miller reruns.