Why do so many people seem to have difficulty following simple instructions?

I’m hoping that this won’t have to be moved to IMHO, but if that’s the fate it must suffer in the absence of any factually based info on how the brain processes information, well, such is life.

I see it on a daily basis, from people who can’t seem to enter the correct auditorium at a three-screen theater despite being told what direction to go in and the color sign to look for to people who can’t seem to get their clothing on the hook on my massage room door in spite of the fact that I physically touched the hook when I told them where to hang their clothes to, well, I told you to get under the sheet, yet here’s your bare ass smiling at me in all its un-sheet-covered glory.

I can understand if there’s a language barrier, but I’m mainly talking about native English-speakers who can’t seem to comprehend the simplest of directions.

Is there some psychologically based reason for this, some neurological wiring thingy that makes them unable to process “left, blue” or “clothes here on hook” or “under sheet”?

Or are they simply not paying attention?

[sub]Just so you know, this time I checked very carefully to make sure I was on the forum page before re-posting this[/sub]

People don’t listen when they think they know what to do. It’s really that simple.

I don’t think we can get any fact based answer to this.

Moved to IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

cause people are stupid?

seriously thats the best answer I have. while working in a resteraunt I got the question
“whats bigger a whole or a half?”

at least once a week…

Well, it was worth a try, but I was really kinda hoping for something more than speculation on the part of individual posters here. But then again, it probably isn’t a hot topic for psych students’ doctoral theses.

Still, if taken in aggregate, the speculation of many different individuals with differing views on the subject might possibly average out to the truth.

Sometimes the problem is that people’s brains don’t all process written and verbal information the same way.

Take this instuction that’s part of a “how to build a garage door for the sims 2” explaination:

I read this, and had no idea what the hell they were talking about. What do they mean by “between”? Is there a way to leave a space between the driveway piece and the extender? To me that’s “between” and that doesn’t seem to be possible. What joint? Nothing moves, does it? If not, how could it have a joint? Every set of instuctions I found had this wording in it! I think it was cribbed from the guide.

After trial and error and using some floor tiles to mark off where the driveway met the extender, I finally got the door placed properly. After over 30 minutes of effort. Had I been able to see a picture of what they meant, I’d of realized that they could have said “on the line where the pieces meet” rather than “on the joint”. But that rewording only helps people like me; there were plenty of people thanking the people who made the threads, so they obviously were able to grasp what was meant.

If something bugs you a lot because you need to explain it all the time, consider making a visual aide, or if verbal information doesn’t seem to come across, write it up too.

Reading and deductive reasoning don’t seem to be stressed as much as they once were-read the book has been replaced with watch the movie, although you learned more from the book. Just my 2 cents.

elfkin your example seems to me to be simply a set of poorly written instructions. Probably the people who understood the instructions had some kind of background in construction or carpentry, or at least watch “This Old House” on a semi-regular basis. Probably most people think of a joint as something that bends or moves (like an elbow or a knee) and wouldn’t be aware that the word means “place where two pieces of wood meet”. Anyhoo, yeah, that’s definitely a situation that calls for a diagram. And anyhoo, instructions for any kind of construction project, even a virtual one, are way more complex than what I’m talking about here.

Also, it’s kind of hard to create a visual aid when you’re in the middle of tearing a ticket. “Go to the left, it’s the theater with the blue sign” is fairly clear and concise. At least I thought it was. But people couldn’t seem to comprehend such simple concepts as “left” and “blue”, and would instead go straight on to the theater with the yellow sign, then come and bitch to me that the movie was half over.

Also, when I tell people where to hang their clothes, I physically touch the hook, so, yeah, there’s a visual with the instructions, but half the time the clothes still wind up in assorted other places around the room- often on the little stool I sit on when I’m working the neck muscles, so I have to pick them up and hang them on the hook myself.

And do I really need to draw a diagram when I tell people to lie face down under the sheet which is turned down the way a sheet on the bed is?

In any case, I’m giving instructions that include descriptions of objects that are within my instructee’s visual field, so visual aids shouldn’t be necessary.

I am acquainted with a girl who, after being harangued (repeated verbal instructions accompanied by a diagram drawn on the board) by a teacher to write her name on the back of the test booklet (to avoid bias), wrote her name nice and big on the front page. :rolleyes:

In her case, it’s because she’s a spoiled brat who thinks the world conforms to her needs, not the other way around.

I find that people comprehend more of what I say when I have direct eye contact. If I don’t, they begin looking around, thinking about other things and are only partly listening to what I’m saying.

You could try posting signs, too, like a sign right on the stool that reads: “Clothes on Hook Please” or something like that.

I’m at a loss as to why someone would leave themselves uncovered when you asked them not to. Perhaps they’re nervous?

People are stupid. That’s about the size of it.

There are a few people in my life who I love dearly but who I KNOW sometimes aren’t hearing what I’m telling them. I can see them nodding and saying “Yes, I get it” but for whatever reason they don’t. Why are they nodding? Usually it’s some combination of:

  • because they think they understand what I’m saying
  • because they don’t think it’s important
  • because they don’t believe me
  • because they aren’t really paying attention

If it is important I make them repeat it back to me and half the time they can’t. I say it a different way (sometimes a few different ways), sometimes I grab their shoulders and make them meet my eyes, and often I preface it with “You’re not hearing me,” then they get it. Usually.

Sometimes a well-placed kick helps things.

In the case of strangers who can’t find their way to the theatre, I expect it’s something similar. But since you (usually) can’t kick them, other means are necessary. Never underestimate the common sense of the public. Make things as easy for them as concievably possible. Signs, colours, notices, eye contact, SPEAKING … VERY … PURPOSEFULLY … AND … SLOWLY … these things help but are not infallible. People remain stupid and lots of people remain stupid in their own little impenetrable worlds. All you can do is make it as difficult as possible for them to do the wrong thing.

After one fateful trip on the Paris metro, I gained an enormous appreciation for the (seemingly) idiot-proof colour scheme on the London underground. And yet people still get lost. There’s nothing you can do.

Perhaps kicking should be allowed in such situations.

Are you kidding? People don’t read signs either. I can have signs all over my booth at outdoor fairs, and people still ask, “Who do I make the check out to? Do you take credit cards? Is there tax on this?” All of which are covered by the sign right in front of them.

I answer them politely, but Good God Almighty. Why do they even bother teaching reading in school?

I chalk this up to sensory overload. I run into it all the time at my job (conference center). Some people, when they arrive at a new place, have trouble separating out significant things (directional signs) from insignificant (potted palms). Their eyes just glaze over- as though the entire landscape is *flattened * from their perspective.
In these cases, it’s just easier to ask someone.

I sit next to the fax machine in my office and every day one of the employees sends a fax that for some reason (did not dail the number correctly, or lacking area code etc) and they will get on of those loud annoying misdial recordings blaring…There is a cancel/stop button that they all begin to pound on like mad…However it does not stop the fax transmission attempt unless you read the screen that says “to confirm cancel, press 1”.

So all throughout the day, I hear loud annoying messages blaring from the machine and angry co-workers pounding the same futile button.

I have told each of them that they must PRESS 1, but they NEVER do.

It would be comical if it were not so disruptive.

It’s a simple enough sentence:

“You have the incorrect username or password stored in your dialup connection software” (or ADSL modem, as the case may be).

The page even goes on to confirm that yes, they have typed in the right user name and password on the error screen, they just need to retype it in the box (where it says “Username” and “Password”) before they connect next time.

But for the love of god, I’ve seen notes in people’s accounts that show they’ve called us more than half a dozen times in the past couple of months for the same problem. Each time we tell them how to fix it. Each time they get the same error screen, and each time they call us back to get us to tell them how to fix it again.

Some people’s brains just tend to shut down when they’re being given instructions. That’s the only thing I can think of to excuse this type of idiocy.

I have a suggestion for the sheet issue. Hang a big framed photo of an unsheeted sumo wrestler getting a massage, along with the instructions to please lie on the table **under ** the sheet. :smiley:

I think the timing or order of the information is important. People don’t need directions to their specific theater until the hallway forks, so they ignore the ticket taker’s premature directions. People don’t need to know where to hang their clothes until they’re naked. People don’t need to know whether they should be over or under the sheet until they get up on the table. Perhaps you could try a recording “Please enjoy this musical selection as you disrobe for your massage (music) please hang your clothes on the hook beside the door (music) now get on the table and cover yourself from the waist down with the cotton sheet provided. Enjoy this musical selection and your massage therapist will be with you soon (1812 Overture).”

I think that in general, most people are lousy listeners. So it’s not so much that they cannot follow directions as that they don’t listen to them in the first place.

Here’s some hard numbers for you. I have taught a class of approximately 90 students for five semesters. I ask them to fill out the name section on their computer-scored bubble sheets with their last name first. Each semester, I have increased the number and variety of ways that I tell them this.

I tell them orally as I hand out the exams.

It is in the DIRECTIONS section of the test, which I read aloud for them.

The bubble sheet says: NAME (Last First).

Yet 1 or 2 people EVERY EXAM put their first name first. My hypothesis is that once you have about a hundred people in a room, it is nigh impossible to get them all to complete any single task correctly. But what really blows my mind is that there’s always someone who gets it backwards, it’s rarely the same person from one exam to the next. Somebody who got it wrong last time suddenly figures out, “Uhhhhh, derrrrrrr, last name first!” but apparently there’s a constant, quantifiable amount of “stupid” in the room, so the “stupid” has to jump from that person’s brain to somebody else’s so the person beside will be thinking, “Was it last name first or first name first? Hmmmm. Oh no! I’ve forgotten wha I was thinking about! Oh, yeah. Pie. I really like pie.”

In the case of signs, part of it is the sensory overload. I CAN read, very well. But I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve asked for directions to, say, the ladies’ room and had someone point out the large red electric sign directly behind them that says “Rest Rooms ->”.