Unlike Miss Ever’s boys, who were injected with syphilis without their knowledge and studied to see the effects of unchecked disease, social experiments can be amusing in benign social scenarios. It’s amazing the effect you can have on others, verbal or not; consciously or not.
For example, on a long, lonely stretch of highway, some drivers will passively fall in step behind other drivers at a steady clip. In this situation, I eventually change lanes for no reason, just to see what the other car will do. Inevitably, when the road opens up before them, the driver automatically speeds up even if I’ve been leading for miles.
Years ago, an old boyfriend and I disagreed in an elevator on the way to work (we both worked at the same place). I held out my hand to see if he could transcend the moment and still show affection. He could not. As I suspected, he and I were near the end anyway.
But that’s the fun of social experiments for the overly analytical person. Trying to figure out others’ motivations, actions, reactions, and reasoning.
I hold doors for a brief while to see who says, “thank you,” and who just barges on through, secure in their entitlement.
If I take up too much space in an aisle, I often wait to see whether someone says, “excuse me” before I move. Or else I don’t move. This is actually one of my favorite social experiments. Stand in a narrow aisle, and act oblivious to people who want to come down the aisle, or pass you, but don’t know what to do. Just as often as not, half of the people will turn around and go down a different aisle to get to the other side of you, when all they had to do was say “excuse me”. The other half will just act like they’re looking at something behind you, but follow you forward.
I think people have an aversion to saying “excuse me”. I think “excuse me” has lost its meaning, instead becoming a substitute for ‘hey, I’m going to bump into you”. In one crowd, I said “excuse me” to a man who didn’t react. I then said, “excuse me” louder, in case he hadn’t heard. No response. I moved him out of my way. I think he wanted to murder me then, but what was I supposed to do?! Manners didn’t work.
I’ve been known to ignorantly wait for a cashier to speak to me. Some time, when a sales clerk asks, “Did you find everything you were looking for today?” answer truthfully, “no,” and see their reaction.
Last week, I went to see The Kings Speech. I was on a mission to get popcorn and treats and get into a choice seat before the movie started, because I like the ads and previews beforehand. Apparently, a man, also on the way to the movies by himself, thought that I was trying to get in front of everybody walking toward the theatre. I guess he thought I wanted to be first. So he passed me at a fast clip, opened the theater door immediately before me, and let it go without holding it, so I had to stop the door from hitting me. In this unplanned experiment, I then held the door for the older couple I had passed on the sidewalk. Whatever the rude guy thought was wrong. Maybe I’m wrong in my explanation and assumptions right now! Who knows?
But ain’t human behavior fun?