Monday, September 06, 2004
Life in the Fast Lane
Scientific American: "The supermarket is a great place to study human behavior, Trinkaus says. In a 1993 report, he described 75 visits in which he watched the same checkout lane for 15-minute stints. He stood off to the side, holding a shopping cart so as not to attract attention, discreetly keeping records with a handheld counter. He discovered that only 15 percent of the shoppers obeyed the 10-item limit; most exceeded the limit by two items. In a follow-up report in 2002, just 7 percent of the buyers obeyed the limit, and the violators purchased 14 items, on average. People also split large orders in half to meet the posted limit. Shoppers were no better behaved in the bakery department; 90 percent of the shoppers used their hands rather than tongs to select items. The availability of tissue paper helped, but not by much: 60 percent still used their hands.

Trinkaus claims that 'all my studies point in the same direction - that things are changing for the worse" in terms of courtesy and civility. "We’re seeing more selfish behavior, more people looking out for themselves," he notes. He suspects that Americans’ infatuation with technology—cell phones, MP3 players and the Internet—has led to a lack of communication. "People interact less with one another these days and more with machines. That can be isolating, possibly contributing to antisocial behavior."

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