What is it that goes off inside of us when someone pushes in front of us in a queue? Is there anything more frustrating?

I can remember as a teenager and when in my early 20s my firends and I would queue up for what seemed like hours outside the nightclub, with only our shirts and the evenings beer keeping us warm… And then along would come a couple of girls in short skirts who smiled sweetly at the bouncers and they’d be allowed to waltz straight in… How infuriating!

Why am I mentioning this today? Let me explain…

I read a great article today about a rather funny piece of research… For this piece of research, the experiments involved psychologists taking off their lab coats, rolling up their sleeves and delving into the precarious midst of the real world… One or two of them may even have got shouted at or worse when doing this piece of research…

Stanley Milgram and his colleagues did just that back in the 1980s when they pushed in line at 129 queues at train stations, betting shops and other venues in New York. They uncovered interesting behavioural patterns, such as that people were far more likely to react to a line pusher right in front of them than one who pushed in several places ahead (even though the effect of the pusher on waiting time would be the same in each case).

So, this piece of research entitled Queuing Among U2 Fans: Reactions to Social Norm Violations in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, went and did the next best thing after actually pushing into queues. They surveyed groups of U2 fans queuing overnight to get the best positions possible in the general admission area at a U2 stadium concert.

A initial survey of 238 fans at a Philadelphia concert asked queuers how they would react to a series of line-pushing scenarios. Fans said they would react more negatively if an apparent stranger pushed in, as opposed to a “friend” taking up a place “saved” for them by others. However, fans didn’t say they would react any less negatively if someone pushed in behind them as opposed to pushing in front of them (even though the former case wouldn’t affect them directly). It also didn’t make any difference to fans’ reactions if they were currently nearer the front of the line as opposed to being nearer the back.

A second survey of 206 fans in Atlanta Georgia replicated a finding from the first survey: hardcore fans said they would react more severely to line-pushers than did casual fans. All fans said they would be more upset by a line pusher if they had been waiting longer. However, once again, fans said it didn’t matter whether a line pusher barged in behind or in front of them in the queue — they’d be equally upset.

“Clearly people care about the context and situation of norm violations, not just about the objective set back associated with someone intruding in line,” the researchers said. However, they added that the “moral outrage” response was probably related to more functional concerns. After all, “For U2 fans, any threat to the established queue might create chaos to the entire system and, therefore, ultimately threaten one’s own position…”

I used to think it was territorialism… Or maybe it was that as a result of queueing all that time, I had somehow earned my position in front of anyone else arriving… Funny how we react, isn’t it? I’ve noticed the reaction is worse in other countries too…

Ok, have a fabulous weekend, I am running the Great South Run in Portsmouth this weekend…The biggest race of its kind in Europe… Should be fun!