It is interesting how conventions quickly develop for situations where people are put in close proximity, such as in elevators. There is even a name for the study of how people relate to others in public spaces: proxemics. This post looks at what we know about elevator behavior, such as how people arrange themselves as they enter, that people look at the numbers, possibly as a way to avoid eye contact with others, and that “Men leave more space between themselves and other men than women do with other women”.
A psychologist named Layne Longfellow distilled the conventions into seven rules.
- Face forward.
- Fold hands in front.
- Do not make eye contact.
- Watch the numbers.
- Don’t talk to anyone you don’t know.
- Stop talking with anyone you do know when anyone enters the elevator.
- Avoid brushing bodies.
Maybe it’s a Midwestern thing but people here in Cleveland tend to first make eye contact, smile, and even exchange a quick greeting before they settle into the standard pattern.
Naturally there have been efforts, often with humorous intent, to see what people would do if they are confronted with situations where others seem to be violating the norms. Here is a video of one such experiment.