The quest to avoid the crazy person

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A study by Yale University reveals the lengths to which commuters go to avoid interacting with each other  including adopting the stare or similar dont bother me looks.

London - You're on the train and someone is heading for the seat next to you.

It could be the perfect moment to employ the ‘hate stare’ to convince them to pick somewhere else.

A study by Yale University reveals the lengths to which commuters go to avoid interacting with each other – including adopting the stare or similar “don’t bother me” looks.

Other tactics include putting your bag on the next seat, checking your phone, putting in headphones and pretending to be asleep.

The research, published in journal Symbolic Interaction, found that prejudices were nothing to do with age, race or social background, but based on people’s desire for comfort.

And it found that if a trip is so busy that all seats will be taken, our objective changes to sitting by a “normal” person.

Professor Esther Kim, of Yale University, said: “I became what’s known as an experienced traveller and I jotted down many of the different methods people use to avoid sitting next to someone else.

“We engage in all sorts of behaviour to avoid others, pretending to be busy, checking phones, rummaging through bags, looking past people or falling asleep.

“Sometimes we even don a ‘don’t bother me face’ or what’s known as the ‘hate stare’.”

Advice given by passengers to keep a free seat include leaning against the window and stretching their legs out, pretending to be asleep and putting a large bag on the seat.

Some cheeky commuters put a coat on the seat so it looks taken, while others lie and say it is already occupied by someone else.

Passengers even sit in the aisle seat with their music turned up so they can pretend not to hear when someone asks for the empty window seat, while others place several items on the spare seat as it is too much hassle waiting for them to be moved.

And instead of avoiding the crazy person, commuters gaze out the window with a blank stare, while some passengers just avoid eye contact.

According to Professor Kim, this changes “when it is announced that the bus will be full so all seats should be made available”, so the objective changes “from sitting alone to sitting next to a ‘normal’ person.”

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

Professor Kim said: “One rider told me the objective is just ‘getting through the ride’, and that I should avoid fat people who may sweat more and so may be more likely to smell.

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

The Symbolic Interaction study also showed this nonsocial behaviour is also driven by safety concerns - especially for coach travel as it is perceived to be dangerous with badly lit bus stations.

Result also showed passengers expected each other to be jaded by delays or other inconveniences, leaving them feeling tired and stressed.

Professor Kim, who travelled from Connecticut and New Mexico, California to Illinois, Colorado to New York, and Texas to Nevada, said: “In a cafe, which is more relaxed, people often ask strangers to watch their stuff for a moment.

“Yet at bus stations that rarely happens as people assume their fellow passengers will be tired and stressed out.

“Ultimately this nonsocial behaviour is due to the many frustrations of sharing a small public space together for a lengthy amount of time.

“Yet this deliberate disengagement is a calculated social action, which is part of a wider culture of social isolation in public spaces.

“We live in a world of strangers, where life in public spaces feels increasingly anonymous.

“However, avoiding other people actually requires quite a lot of effort and this is especially true in confined spaces like public transport.” - Daily Mail

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