Investigating behavioural mimicry in the context of stair/escalator choice.

OJ Webb, Francis Eves, LD Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

24 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives.  We investigated whether individuals mimic the stair/escalator choices of preceding pedestrians. Our methodology sought to separate cases where the 'model' and 'follower' were acquaintances or strangers. Design.  Natural experiment. Methods.  Infrared monitors provided a second-by-second log of when pedestrians ascended adjacent stairs/escalators in a mall. Manual timings established that stair climbers spent ≥ 7 s on ascent, during which time they could act as models to following pedestrians. Thus, individuals who mounted the stairs/escalator ≤ 7 s after the previous stair climber were assigned to a 'stair model' condition. A 'no stair model' condition comprised individuals with a gap to the previous stair climber of ≥ 60 s. The stair model condition was subdivided, depending if the gap between model and follower was 1-2 s or 3-7 s. It was hypothesized that the former cohort may know the model. Results.  Percentage stair climbing was significantly higher in the 'stair model' versus 'no stair model' condition (odds ratio [OR]= 2.08). Subgroup analyses showed greater effects in the '1-2 s' cohort (OR = 3.33) than the '3-7 s' cohort (OR = 1.39). Conclusions.  Individuals appear to mimic the stair/escalator choices of fellow pedestrians, with more modest effects between strangers. People exposed to message prompts at stair/escalator sites are known to take the stairs unprompted in subsequent situations. Our results suggest that these individuals could recruit a second generation of stair climbers via mimicry. Additionally, some of the immediate behavioural effects observed in interventions may be a product of mimicry, rather than a direct effect of the messages themselves.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)373-85
Number of pages13
JournalBritish Journal of Health Psychology
Issue numberPt 2
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2011


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